Wendy Hawkins, LCSW

Empower! Educate! Evolve!

Trauma and Ethnic Mental Health

Trauma and Ethnic Mental Health

Trauma and ethnic mental healthTrauma and ethnic mental health

There’s a direct connection between trauma and ethnic mental health. There’s no getting around it or sugar-coating the facts. Due to racial trauma, the mental health among communities of color continues to decline due to a very specific social injustice that still exists in America.

Racial trauma, which is similar to post-traumatic stress, is a psychological trend experienced by black and brown people of America. Likely factors leading to this type of race-related stress include re-experiencing historic trauma, experiencing or witnessing current racially-motivated violence or being within a community of poverty that perpetuates institutional racism.

Traumatic interactions can happen directly, as victims of racial violence and discrimination or even by continuously witnessing it in public. Trauma and ethnic mental health can be related to experiencing police brutality (real or on TV/social media) living in institutional poverty, being subjected to stereotypes and hate crimes. Results of such experiences as the victim or the witness, include depression, anxiety, paranoia and anger management difficulties. Mental health professionals have also found that racial trauma also perpetuates the divide among races that creates the problem in the first place.

Declining mental health

Many experiencing racial trauma tend to have a distrust against the oppressing race, a hyper-vigilance to threats and even the attribution of their own race as reason to be failures. Such distress over a lifetime often leads to mood disorders that bolster unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or violence, further leading to problems with addiction and crime. This creates a direct correlation between trauma and ethnic mental health. The trauma can behave as a trap across generations that only further internalizes the self-hate broiling among the traumatized on the sole factor of their race creating additional historic trauma. Feelings of hopelessness discourage any break in the cycle of trauma and failure among people of color. Although the effects of racism are identifiable in people of color, the racial trauma has yet to be recognized as a diagnostic label in the mental health community.

Advocate and Educate

Responding to hate crimes and racial acts of violence with a mission of advocacy is one way to feel accomplished and purposeful. Rather than demonstrate apathy and acceptance that its “just the way it is” for a person of color, standing up in the name of one’s race scrapes away at the self-hatred that can contribute to certain mood disorders and unhealthy coping. Feeling a sense of contribution instills a feeling of empowerment, and with empowerment comes a will to live and serve in the name of race and humanity as a whole.

Educating yourself and others about the detriments of racial trauma also reassures the confidence-building necessary to face these social injustices while spreading awareness. Teaching children, relatives and friends builds an advocacy network that slowly creates the dent toward breaking down the infrastructure of racial unfairness. For many of these groups, obstacles like poverty and lack of insurance prevent access to professional help, yet the act of educating to promote awareness may spark a desire to seek healing through online communities. There are also several online sources from professional organizations that educate on how ethnic inequality adversely affects our society, and ways to address the issue.


Evolving the societal consciousness as a whole could still take several lifetimes before racism against ethnic groups is obsolete, there are ways to cope with this form of PTSD. Committing to self-care and obtaining professional help with the self-awareness of racial trauma can also act as a weapon against racism.

Whether it’s building a Mental Health Toolbox, speaking with a licensed social worker specializing on race-related stress or learning the process of proactive coping, equipping yourself with the right strategies can ensure the mental evolution necessary for a productive life.

There are also areas of racism exposure that can controlled, as to not perpetuate the trauma within oneself. Disconnecting from certain explosive social media pages, limiting the consumption of news and redirecting energy from getting angry into self-care can be helpful in combating race-related stress.

If you are a person of color, do you feel that ethnic inequality has contributed to any mental health imbalances within yourself? If so, how are you coping now? I’m interested in hearing how you’ve learned to evolve from discrimination based on your race and community, with the intention to help others in your very unique situation.


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