Coping With Racial Trauma: The Effects of Systemic Racism

Systematic racism and the continued onslaught of civil rights injustices remain a significant public health crisis. The recent and continuous incidents of police brutality in this country can trigger racial trauma for Black citizens throughout the nation. Unfortunately, race plays an integral role in how Black people are perceived, valued, and treated. It can also be a critical factor in the onset of physical and mental health issues in Black communities For many Black people, experiencing racism is a common yet often overlooked reality, and experiencing racism can take a severe toll on your mental and physical health. Therefore, it’s vital to identify effective coping mechanisms to address the impact of systematic racism. Mental and Physical Effects of Racism Racism and discrimination can have detrimental impacts on your mental and physical health, including the development of racial trauma. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Racism is associated with higher rates of stress, increasing a person of color’s risk of developing PTSD.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also reported that “Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than other racial or ethnic groups.” Hence, racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress, is a chronic form of mental and emotional trauma caused by racial bias, bigotry, or discrimination. Racism also causes a distorted sense of self and creates limiting beliefs and fear, ultimately debilitating one’s mental health. A 2015 meta-analysis found that racism is twice as likely to affect an individual’s mental health than physical health. This analysis also indicated that Black people who reported experiences of racism experienced the following mental health issues:
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Stress
  • Suicidal thoughts
Coping with Racial Trauma Although experiencing racism or discrimination is a traumatic experience causing long-term physical and mental complications, there are strategies you can leverage to preserve your mental health while strengthening your resilience. You are not expected to deconstruct systematic racism. However, it is important to learn coping mechanisms to help you respond to racist situations. Proactively practice self-love and self-care to protect your mental health by:
  • Creating or joining a support system
    • Leveraging a supportive community that understands racial trauma
    • Support systems can be a safe place to share your experiences while learning from others
  • Seek professional help
    • Trauma-informed therapy is a proven strategy to validate your feelings and process your experiences
    • Engaging in therapy also promotes healing using evidence-based treatment modalities
  • Limit your media intake
    • Avoid news coverage or videos of police brutality or racism that can cause trauma
    • Reduce your exposure to traumatic events via media
    • Take mental health breaks from the news and social media
To develop and maintain a strong sense of self-worth and cultural identity:
  • Embrace your identity
  • Explore your family history
  • Join a racial injustice activist group
Healing from racial trauma can be challenging and coping with discrimination can be physically and emotionally exhausting. However, regardless of your experience with racism, you are not alone, and there is hope. Connecting with peers, creating a strong sense of racial identity, embracing your ethnicity, and talking about your experiences can help you manage the stress of racism. Quality Counseling welcomes you into our healing community. Contact us today at for targeted restorative healing strategies.