A psychologist explains race-based stress and trauma in Black Americans

Often times I get asked why African Americans don’t respond to race-related experiences in the classroom or the workplace. I wanted to share this article from Psychology Today discussing the link between racism and PTSD.

Race and PTSD

From: Psychology Today

The Link Between Racism and PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – the diagnosis conjures up images of hollow-eyed combat veterans or terrified rape victims, but new research indicates that racism can be just as devastating as gunfire or sexual assault. In a previous article I posed the question, Can Racism Cause PTSD?  The answer is yes, and changes in the DSM-5 open the door for a better understanding of this phenomenon. Here I discuss the psychological research in this area, as well as clinical observations and how these relate to my own experiences as a person of color. Several people have asked me why I focus on African Americans, given the many similar experiences faced by other ethnic/racial groups, immigrants, sexual minorities, disabled people, and other stigmatized individuals. I want to state up front that the problems faced by those groups are real and deserve attention too, however in this article I am going to stick to what I know, the Black experience in America.

Racism-related experiences can range from frequent ambiguous “microaggressions” to blatant hate crimes and physical assault. Racial microaggressions are subtle, yet pervasive acts of racism; these can be brief remarks, vague insults, or even non-verbal exchanges, such as a scowl or refusal to sit next to a Black person on the subway. When experiencing microaggressions, the target loses vital mental resources trying figure out the intention of one committing the act. These events may happen frequently, making it difficult to mentally manage the sheer volume of racial stressors. The unpredictable and anxiety-provoking nature of the events, which may be dismissed by others, can lead to victims feeling as if they are “going crazy.” Chronic fear of these experiences may lead to constant vigilance or even paranoia, which over time may result in traumatization or contribute to PTSD when a more stressful event occurs later (Carter, 2007). In fact, one study of female veterans found that African Americans scored higher on measures of ideas of persecution and paranoia, which the authors attributed to an adaptive response to racism (C’de Baca, Castillo, & Qualls, 2012).

References  and full article at psychologytoday.com


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