The racism, inequalities and police brutality that Black people face on a regular basis have come to broader light in response to the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. The outrage has inspired my fellow Black community, white people and non-Black people of color around the world to come together at protests, rallies and on social media.
During this time of unrest, Black people are met with extreme stress, pressure, fear, mental exhaustion, anxiety and sadness. Now, more than ever, Black mental health is an essential cause to support as so much is weighing on the shoulders of the Black community.
In order for progress to truly happen, we need our allies to respect, promote and cherish Black mental health during a time when Black people are faced with such pain. Below, Black mental health and wellness experts from around the country shared ways for non-Black people to be an effective ally and supporter of Black mental health at this crucial time.
Listen to the Black people in your life.
The Black community needs emotional support. There is an undeniable heaviness as generations of inequality and racism are brought up. Be there to listen to the Black people in your life. You don’t have to have any answers, but let them share their feelings in a safe space.
“Start with validating and acknowledging what is happening right now. Then, take it a step further and really listen to your friends, listen to their feelings, their thoughts and their emotions without judgment,” said Nicole Cammack, president and CEO of Black Mental Wellness in Washington, D.C.
She added that letting Black people voice their emotions will increase their feeling of connection, which is imperative in the current climate.
Give the Black community space.
Part of listening to the Black people in your life includes hearing them when they say they need a break or space. If someone doesn’t feel ready to talk, don’t make them.
“We’re all so emotionally traumatized and overwhelmed by everything right now,” explained Tasnim Sulaiman and Zakia Williams of Black Men Heal, a Pennsylvania-based organization that provides Black men with eight free psychotherapy sessions to begin their mental health journey. “The best thing that people can do for the Black community’s mental health is to give us the space to process our emotions.”
Sulaiman and Williams both stressed that it can be hard to articulate feelings and thoughts during times when the nervous system is feeling large amounts of trauma and exhaustion.
Support Black mental health organizations.
“Any platform that directly connects Black people to mental health help is important,” said Naj Austin, founder and CEO of Ethel’s Club, a Brooklyn wellness and social club for people of color.
Don’t pretend everything is OK right now.
“It’s traumatizing to be going through what we’re going through — and we’ve been going through it for many, many years. To have to show up in workspaces and have people not acknowledge the situation or pretend this trauma doesn’t exist is hurtful. And then you have to be pretend you’re not traumatized,” Sulaiman and Williams said.
The Black community understands that not everyone knows what to say right now and that is OK. But, the pair said that complete silence is betrayal. Not even simply acknowledging the pain or the situation just further hurts the Black people in your life.
Join diversity and inclusion groups.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion groups at corporations and in professional organizations, the members are typically mostly — if not exclusively — Black or people of color. Cammack suggested joining groups that are focused on diversity efforts, whether you are a minority or not.
She added that work surrounding diversity initiatives often falls on the Black people at an organization, which can result in increased pressure and stress at work.
“Allies could take some of that weight by educating themselves, taking appropriate trainings and speaking up so that it’s not always on the Black person to speak up,” Cammack said. “Look at systemic racist or oppressive things that happen within the job — look at the hiring process, disparities in pay or leadership, and think about how to look at this system-wide.”
Stay informed on mental health bills and the stance of your elected officials.
Data shows that an estimated 30% of U.S. Black adults with a mental health condition receive treatment each year, compared to the average of 43%, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This is due to barriers like misdiagnosis from doctors, a lack of proper providers, cost and more.
“Things need to be changed on an institutional, structural level — especially when it comes to mental health and the huge health disparities that exist for people of color,” Sulaiman and Williams said.
The protests and uproar we are seeing around the country are happening during an election year, so it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what mental health bills exist within your community and the stance of those running for office. Read their websites and policies, or email their offices and ask them to explain their plans for better mental health care.
“It’s important that you are paying attention to the people who you are voting for and the way in which they support mental health,” Sulaiman and Williams said.
Vow to continue the momentum.
Within the Black community, there is a constant fear that the uproar and involvement we are seeing now will not last. This worry is heavily weighing on Black people and impacting stress, anxiety and happiness levels daily.
Austin stated that being a true supporter of the movement means being involved every day. The battle for equality and racial justice is something that Black people have to constantly fight for and to be a true ally you must work and fight every day, too.
“I would implore non-Black people to continue educating themselves, to continue donating and opening up their world to what we’re so used to already.”
– Naj Austin, founder and CEO of Ethel’s Club
That includes speaking out, having tough conversations about anti-racism with your family and friends, donating to meaningful organizations, educating yourself, advocating for pay parity in the workplace, supporting Black-owned businesses and more.
“Continue being a part of the conversation,” Austin said. “I have a fear that this is a moment stamped in time and two months from now, white people and non-Black people of color won’t be talking about this — which is not the way to move forward. I would implore non-Black people to continue educating themselves, to continue donating and opening up their world to what we’re so used to already.”
She added that allies should not just focus on the work that needs to be done today, but also on the work that needs to be done two years from now. It is the easiest time to be involved in the fight for racial justice because everyone is paying attention — think forward to the future and commit to the fight when the spotlight on this moment goes out.