The Black community has suffered many losses in the past year.
With the deaths of role models like Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman, historical figures like Elijah Cummings and John Lewis, in addition to those at the hands of police, the effects from such events on mental health have come into focus.
Illinois State Black Psychology Student Association member Damya King said dealing with the losses have been tough.
“Recently it's been hitting us heavy,” she said. “Mentally, this is something you can't prepare for. The fact that we’ve lost some really good role models, people we look up to, people we admire, and people we say we want to be like when we get older, mentally it does something. It brings you down and it just hurts."
Tim Allison, pastor of Reconcile Church in Bloomington, said the tragic events are a reminder of the many forms of death he could face as a Black man in America.
“I’m reminded that death is a reality that happens. Kobe’s just happened tragically out of nowhere," he said. "On the other side of the coin when we talk about police brutality, there’s an element for me as a Black man that I could be leaving my house and have an altercation with a police officer and that moment could end my life."
Allison said it's a sad reality he faces every day.
“I see it over and over again in my Facebook news feed and in conversation. Although those events seem like they’re separate from one another, they’re a reminder of the many ways life could end for me,” he said. “It’s a rehashing of a complex trauma that I'm already dealing with because there are things we deal with just because we’re Black, that rehashes this multilayer trauma that we’ve experienced.
"When viewing those events from the lens of a Black man or Black person in general, those things are not far from each other. And they’re woven into the complex trauma I experience from one, being a human being living life and also, the other element of my Black experience living life.”
The recent grand jury's decision in the Breonna Taylor case broke the hearts of many. No officers were charged in her death. One officer was charged for allegedly endangering the lives of her neighbors.
Karl Brooks, treasurer of the Black Psychology Students Association, said he wasn't surprised when he heard the verdict.
“The government and the police show through their actions that our lives do not matter, and that they will do everything in their power to make things seem better, but not actually change the institutional problems that create the issues we have today,” he said.
King said the verdict extends a sad reality that justice may never be served.
“When is justice ever being served?" King asked. "It’s not surprising and at this point it's becoming sad to know that there is no justice for us even when we fight, even when we wait, even when we voice our opinions, and even when we have role models and people that are higher than just the community fighting.”
Having 'The Talk'
While some consider justice nonexistent in the Black community, parents have been forced to have what’s called "The Talk" with their Black children in hopes they don't become the next person killed in a confrontation with police.
Brooks said when he was given the talk, it was essentially to be wary of what could happen while he’s out, even if he was doing nothing wrong.
“The talk they gave me was about my mannerisms," Brooks said. "Making sure that when I’m talking to a police officer I’m being friendly, never questioning them too much, always complying, anywhere you go not wearing a black hoodie, at night wear brighter clothes and just to be wary of those kinds of things.”
Allison said what’s being projected in the conversation is that their Blackness has to be toned down.
“I’ve had to have the talk with my children who are 8 and 6 now, so the age of having that conversation is actually getting younger and younger, dealing with the climate that we're in,” he said. “The conversation itself invokes this reality that who I am must be toned down in order to be less threatening to others, whereas all I'm doing is just simply existing.
"Psychologically, I'm already processing the idea that society looks at me in a certain way, not based on the content of my character, but based off of the color of my skin. Having to have that talk with my younger kids was very difficult. It was devastating to me as a parent, because I knew at that moment that I just took their innocence away. At that moment they would never experience life the same because of that conversation that I had to have with them.”
Having that fear, coping with loss, and dealing with unjust verdicts have become a new normal within the community.
Twin City mental health counselor William Portis said the response he’s received from clients is one of grief.
“It’s been a hard year and it’s just one of sadness, depression, denial, and even anger," Portis said--'I’m so tired of this happening. When is enough, enough?' Those are some of the responses I’ve gotten, but fortunately we’ve been able to work through some of those emotions.”
Barriers to therapy
For many African Americans, going to therapy is taboo. Portis said it’s due to the lack of trust.
“I think one of the challenges is simply trust, trust in coming to a professional and talking about matters of the heart, things that are personal, and things that are painful," Portis said. "For African Americans particularly, their experiences in America haven’t been as warm throughout the years. So quite frankly, that trust factor is something that hinders some from going in to see a counselor. It takes a certain amount of meekness, which is a control strength to come in and make yourself vulnerable to be able to disclose to another individual."
Portis said seeing a therapist that African Americans can identify with could be a form of progress.
“There are a plethora of African American female counselors and clinicians in town, but I haven't seen very many African American males. So I'm finding that some African American males are seeking me out, but I think the trust factor and the fact that mental health is sometimes frowned upon as someone being quote-unquote 'crazy' are factors that keep us out of the therapy room.”
King said the fact that African Americans are hesitant to go to therapy is what drives her to pursue the field. In the future, she hopes to use her platform as a therapist to remove the stereotype.
“In the Black community, we don't take mental health seriously and we fail to realize that there are times where parents will be like, ‘It's just a phase, you'll get over it, you'll be fine,’ but no, this lingers onto relationships, it lingers onto friendships and lingers onto how you perform at work.
"So if you don't dig in and get to the root of the problem, there’s a lot of things that can occur. So just knowing that personally, it just made me have a drive to prove to people like there's nothing wrong with talking to a therapist and there's nothing wrong with going to counseling."
King said expressing emotions is not a sign of weakness. She said it takes strength to recognize you need help.
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