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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Rice


Depression and anxiety spiked among African Americans after May 26, 2020, when the video of George Floyd's death at the hands of police began to go viral.

Multiple federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau, conducted a 2020 Household Pulse Survey. The 20-minute survey questions were drawn from two screening tools that assist doctors in diagnosing patients with a generalized anxiety disorder or have a major depressive disorder.

According to the Washington Post, the research results showed that significant signs of anxiety or depressive disorders in African Americans jumped from thirty-six percent to forty-one percent, after the video of Floyd's death. That is estimated to be 1.4 million or more people.

Though many African Americans were already struggling with historic levels of mental health problems, Virginian therapists and clinicians like Dr. Anita Payne saw a rise in patient intake around March 26, 2020.

"I'm not surprised by how often I am getting request, and it's to the point now where it's hard to even keep up with the callbacks," Dr. Payne said.

"I even myself limit how much I can watch the topic being covered on television because I have to make sure that I am healthy enough to help the people I serve."

Technology and consumer-generated content have also contributed to the recent unrest.

"I think in this age of smartphones and social media, we are increasingly devolving symptoms of PTSD, uncontrolled fear, heightened anxiety, and hopelessness," Richmond therapist Letitia Brown said.

"These direct images of brutality, death, and mistreatment of various individuals contribute to people having mental health symptoms that they aren't even aware of."

A 2018 study in The Lancet Journal discovered that police killing could affect individuals' psychological well-being that are not directly connected to the incident or the people involved.

"Racism, like trauma, can be experienced vicariously. Police killings of unarmed black Americans might compromise mental health among other black Americans through various mechanisms, including heightened perceptions of systemic racism and lack of fairness, loss of social status and self-regard, increased fear of victimization and greater mortality expectations, increased vigilance, diminished trust in social institutions, reactions of anger, activation of prior traumas, and communal bereavement."

James Harris is a Virginian therapist and the founder of an organization called Men to Heal. The organization encourages men to be attentive to their overall wellness and communicate effectively.

"Access and the availability to mental health services are important, but we also have to understand that African Americans have been neglected for a long time as far as resources…So if you are now expecting people to decide on whether they should take off work to address their mental health, while their family is relying on them to provide, they would potentially not have that financial backing. A lot of people tough it out," Harris said.

Psychologist and author of the book, Mental Health Among African Americans: Innovations in Research and Practice, Dr. Erlanger Turner, reflects on his educational process.

"As practitioners, our general training often lacks understanding of the impacts of racism and how we navigate it. It may be challenging for African Americans to have a conversation with white therapist about some of these issues. So, that is another huge factor that prevents many black individuals from seeking out therapy," said Dr. Erlanger Turner.

In the wake of such incidents, all of the following professionals hope that increased dialogue about mental health and the usefulness of treatment will decrease the stigma in African American communities and opens the door for the younger black generation to consider careers in mental health.



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