Examining the intersection of race, trauma and mental health

2 years ago

89.3 WFPL News Louisville @ Examining the intersection of race, trauma and mental health


It's been a difficult and complex news cycle recently in Louisville. A white former metro officer was acquitted of criminal charges with regards to the raid on Breonna Taylor's apartment. Along with a Black local activist and writer faces charges in the attempted shooting of the mayoral candidate. WFPL's Yasmine Jumaa spoken with Dr. Stephen Kniffley Jr., associate professor of psychology at Spalding University, about the intersections of race, trauma and mental health. Here are a few highlights from that conversation, which have been edited for clarity.

On the contrasting perceptions and responses to news of community violence according to race

Black individuals have an expectation of generalization. Then when we watch this news, and that we hear there was a shooting, or perhaps a robbery, or some sort of violent crime, there’s this collective prayer that comes out that says, 'Please don’t let it be considered a Black individual.' Because we notice that if indeed it is a Black person, we’re on the hook for whatever crime or offense was made.

The science actually supports that. There was a study by Duxbury, and colleagues that found that should you consider the journalism that’s out there, and the literature, that when a story is highlighted in regards to a mass shooting associated with a white individual, they’re oftentimes overwhelmingly treated as victims and sympathetic characters. However, Black and Latino males are cast as these violent individuals. I think it is because we've this general expectation, even before a shooting is committed or a crime is committed, that there’s this inherent deviancy that’s linked to as being a Brown or black person that is not associated with the white experience.

On separating historical trauma from current events, and just how cultural narratives inform trauma reactions

Two specific forms of trauma that Black people are exposed to: our generational traumas are those narratives that are passed down, that are designed to warn us about the risks of being a Black individual, that leads to all of us having this higher alert constantly. After which this racial trauma, that is interpersonal in nature, that is made to remind us that people don’t deserve to maintain certain spaces, or the racism that we seem like we’re encountering is not true, or that we are constantly exposed to the racism and discrimination that other people are encountering.

There’s this pretty significant public grieving process that we have, where we’re constantly needing to grieve by having an audience, and this audience isn’t just a slave to being witness to it. Instead, they’re also offering their opinions about things as well as their thoughts that sometimes might be hurtful and bad for us as we’re attempting to sort things out.

On the different forms mental health struggles may take and also the impact of racial stereotypes and social stigmas on seeking treatment and getting proper diagnoses

I consider, for instance, the experience with trauma, and just how that can influence folks, and how important it's for us to understand that how one experiences that trauma could be different. And so for many of us, we're not doing the best job that we can to research the outcome of things like trauma.

If I’m feeling just a little sad, if I’m feeling a little anxious, I can type of go fly beneath the radar without anybody really saying anything about this. So because we’ve been taught as a society that if I’m feeling these kind of ways, that I just type of bury it, and that i just keep on moving, it doesn’t get the same understanding, the same compassion, the same understanding of the down sides that it can pose for somebody. Every single one people is vulnerable at some stage in here we are at the experience of a mental health related issue. A shift in your needs, the death of the loved one. And finding yourself in the midst of a pandemic can influence many of us. But we don’t give a large amount of space to that, because individuals are just trained to go about their business, which means we typically don't recognize when someone is struggling in those areas. We simply really see mental health related issues when we see its behavioral manifestation, which is why oftentimes we misdiagnose depression and anxiety in Black males, because we only begin to see the behavioral manifestation when it comes to anger and aggression-related issues.

Sometimes, inside our families, we quite often care a lot that it hurts to see our family members struggling. And thus we might be more likely to try to look for ways to excuse it, or try to find methods to pretend like it doesn’t exist. Everything does indeed is that adds more towards the hurt that we’re actually seeking to alleviate for the loved ones. So the the very first thing we are able to do is be frank about this. So being willing to notice, frankly, what's happening. And the next move to make will be prepared to possess a conversation where you invite the person to express what’s going on-and so that you can find resources for connecting that individual to.

Dr. Steven Kniffley Jr. teaches multicultural psychology at Spalding University. He also directs the university's Collective Care Center for Behavioral Health, an institute focused on healing race-related stress and trauma.

Mental health resources

  • Collective Care Center for Behavioral Health
  • Black mental health providers in Louisville
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness, Louisville
  • LGBT National Help Center
  • National and native crisis lines and support
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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