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Four Ways to Take Action Against Racism and Depression


Four Ways to Take Action Against Racism and Depression

Graffiti of the the word "depression" near train tracks.

Miserlou Behind the Aperture/Flickr.com

Left unchecked, depression caused by racism can produce a number of adverse consequences—from chronic hypertension to suicide attempts. While there’s no surefire way to protect oneself from racial bigotry, it is possible to limit the side effects racism has on one’s mental health. Discussing racist experiences with family and friends, seeking counseling and engaging in anti-racist activism are some of the measures one can take to prevent distress over racism from developing into major depression. Learn to take action for the sake of your mental health.

Don’t Hold It In

The worst thing a racism victim can do for their mental health is to hold in their anguish about their mistreatment. A 2012 University of North Carolina study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that when black men in particular keep silent about their experiences with racism more harm results than good. “We know that traditional role expectations are that men will restrict their emotions – or ‘take stress like a man,’” explained study author Wizdom Powell Hammond. “However, the more tightly some men cling to these traditional role norms, the more likely they are to be depressed.”

The study examined men affected by the phenomenon known as “everyday racism.” This form of bigotry does not entail extreme acts of bigotry such as race-based hate crimes but the subtle racially tinged slights or microaggressions that routinely plague people of color. The UNC study found that exposure to everyday racism resulted in depression among all age groups of African-American men. Black men younger than age 40, however, exhibited stronger symptoms of depression. Hammond attributes this to young black men adhering to cultural norms that instruct them to hold in their emotions.

“The data also showed that when men felt strongly about the need to shut down their emotions, then the negative effect of discrimination on their mental health was amplified,” according to UNC. “The association was particularly apparent for men aged 30 years and older.” So if you’ve been a racism victim don’t hold your emotions in; Take action by talking out your feelings with loved ones or a mental health professional.

Seek Counseling

If you don’t have a support network you can rely on to share your experiences with racism or your friends and family members simply don’t understand, consider getting professional help. Seek out a counselor with a background in treating diverse clientele and share your experiences with racial discrimination. A counselor can recommend healthy coping mechanisms to withstand bigotry rather than self-destructive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, angry outbursts or overeating, which can exacerbate symptoms of depression. Therapy can be a helpful way to take action against racism. 

Report Your Tormentors

If you’re experiencing racism at school, work or elsewhere don’t be afraid to report your encounters with discrimination to the proper authorities—be it the principal or the human resources department. A study about the experiences of Filipino men with racism published in the April 2010 edition of the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that reporting bigotry or challenging the perpetrators of bigotry resulted in decreased distress and increased self-esteem for racism targets. Given this, take whatever action you can to hold bigots responsible for their behavior. Document their words and actions and involve an outside agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you don’t have a supportive human resources department or team of supervisors who are sensitive to your concerns. Reporting the wrongdoing you've experienced may prevent you from developing major depression.

Do Something

The University of California, Santa Cruz, suggests that students who’ve experienced racism find a way to push back. Racial discrimination can lead to feelings of helplessness but activism gives victims a healthy way to address their frustration. For example, targets of racial profiling can take action by blogging about their experience, attending community forums on racial profiling or filing a complaint with the police department. They might also attend rallies about racial profiling and police brutality.

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