CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For many, it's clear why protests are playing out nationwide. People are upset over decades of racial injustices they feel have gone unresolved. And, recently the public has been overwhelmed by an onslaught of such images of those injustices.
A 2018 study by The Lancet journal found that police killings of black Americans account for an estimated 55 million additional days of poor mental health, almost matching the number of poor mental health days brought on by diabetes. The Lancet said such shootings and their impact on a population's mental health are reason for them to be considered a public health crisis.
“My first two clients today were black men and they were sad and angry,” says licensed clinical therapist Nedra Tawwab of Charlotte's Kaleidoscope Counseling. But Tawwab says she's realized her advice really can only go so far.
“Focus on the positive,” she has told her clients. “Think about the people who are allies, all of this stuff, but you know, really, it is a scary time for you black man.”
Following months of uncertainty about just how dramatically COVID-19 was impacting black Americans, “we were sad, we were anxious, and I think now with everything that's happening with the murders of black men, we are now sad, anxious, and angry,” Tawwab says.
That's all while being stuck at home, constantly exposed on our phones and on TV to troubling, racially charged incidents.
“And repeatedly for the last two weeks,” Tawwab adds.
She believes it's led to an entire ethnic group and, in particular black men, being traumatized.
“With any trauma, you typically get a period to recover,” she says. “If you're robbed, if you're raped, it doesn't keep happening days after day.”
She says that sort of domino effect started with the release of video of Ahmaud Arbery gunned down while jogging in early May.
“It went to a new level of 'this is another thing that we cannot do, so now we cannot exercise,'” she says.
Then on May 25, cellphone video went viral of an encounter in New York's Central Park between Amy Cooper and a bird-watching black man over her unleashed dog.
“It's so amazing that she is aware of her privilege to the point that she knows she can flex it and have a black man arrested for no reason, that's just goes to show the level of racism in society,” Tawwab says.
On that same day, an ex-Minneapolis police officer was seen kneeling on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
“To see a man begging for his life and for an officer to have no regard, for officers to have no regard,” Tawwab says it only adds to the crisis people of color are experiencing.
Those injustices all paint a collective of images North Carolina social activist Robert Dawkins says are reminders of recent racial injustices in Charlotte and across the state.
“You're looking at old wounds that people are seeing what they lived through,” Dawkins says.
It's led to national outcry in the form of daily protests, most of them meant to call out both macro- and micro-instances of racism.
“They occur regularly right here in the community, and it's the media that draws the attention but that trauma gets pulled back,” Dawkins adds.
“Right now would be a great time, if you're not already in therapy, to go to therapy,” Tawwab suggests.
That mental workout, she says, is key to overcoming anxiety and preserving one's mental health.
“Journal it, processing, getting it out, and figuring out ways that you can be an advocate and sometimes it's protesting, but it might also be supporting a black-owned business or starting an initiative, or donating,” she says.
But she also encourages allies to take action as well.
“I would say have some open, uncomfortable conversations with black people, with people of all ethnicities,” she says. “This is the time to start talking about some things, and setting some things on the table, if things are coming up that don't seem appropriate, speak up for the people who aren't there.”
Clinical Therapist: Recent Images of Racial Injustice Have Widespread "Trauma"
PUBLISHED June 2, 2020 @6:30 PM