Racial Trauma Can Affect The Body & Brain

Clinicians for the study of race-based trauma have made strides in promoting this work.

Mental health programs do not offer official training which is a debilitating effect of racism and discrimination.

Racial trauma is the mental and physical effects and consequences that people of color experience after being exposed to racism. It does not only occur when a person directly experiences racism; it also can be passed through generations.

“The piece about racial trauma that is really unique is the intergenerational impact,” said Maryam Jernigan-Noesi, a psychologist who studied at Boston College’s Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture. “So it’s not just me and my lifetime and what I’ve experienced — it’s the stories you heard from family members, it’s witnessing that of colleagues or peers, and now with social media and online mechanisms of folks sharing videos, it’s also witnessing things that you may not experience directly.”

As issues related to race and equality continue to spark, the phrase “racial trauma” is being invoked more frequently, and becoming necessary treatment in the mental health field. Racial trauma needs to be acknowledged and implemented into mental health treatment because, racial trauma has its own set of challenges and effects for victims.

Sleep issues like nightmares, night terrors and insomnia contribute to the inability to sleep, which results in over- or under-consumption of food. Some people don’t eat as much because they are so impacted by their racial trauma. The stress they feel results in a lack of physical care, which directly impacts their food intake.

Sufferers of racial trauma, results in additional levels of stress and unexpected exposure to triggers. Anyone who watches disturbing video footage can be subject to vicarious racial trauma — not just those who have experienced it themselves, but those witnessing it through a screen. Racial trauma causes an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

In other words, it’s a vicious, nonstop cycle.

Photos by Getty Images

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