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Free mental health resources help protesters, Black people with trauma | Charlotte Observer

JUNE 12, 2020 11:57 AM

The last few weeks have been trying times. Whether you’re just gaining awareness of this country’s perpetual racial aggressions, or you’ve spent your whole life trying to work around it, current events have brought all of the traumas, frustrations and fears to the fore. It can be overwhelming, but there is local, free help available, especially for Black and brown people who may be experiencing acute distress.


Reia Chapman, a licensed clinical social worker, works at the intersection of mental health and social justice work. The owner of the Center for Family and Maternal Wellness, a practice centered on providing support for Black, brown and trans people of color, noticed some years ago that minorities were not being well-served by mental health providers, so she founded the Social Justice Emotional Response Collective in 2016. SJERC has a network of over 100 therapists and counselors who provide free mental health support to activists, protesters and people affected by systemic injustices in Charlotte.

Thanks to cell phones and other technology, encounters with police that result in death and injury to Black and brown people, and instances of white people weaponizing police against Black people, are being recorded and publicized like never before. The weight of these encounters, even experienced vicariously through television and social media, are weighing especially heavy on Black and brown Americans right now, Chapman said. It’s not helped by white friends and colleagues‘ unwitting demands for more emotional labor.


People with a deep sense of commitment to justice work are pushing themselves to the breaking point, neglecting their own spiritual and emotional needs. Chapman said she’s been seeing a lot of people with post-traumatic reactions, the step before a full-blown disorder, as well as substance abuse problems and intersecting complex traumas that can be exacerbated without access to insurance or treatment. She’s seeking to build relationships to provide Medicaid services for those who need access to medical and psychiatric care.


Anxiety, sadness and tearfulness are some of the most common symptoms people may be exhibiting. The pain and frustration of police violence, layered on top of already exacerbated fears from the coronavirus pandemic, feelings of loneliness due to quarantining and the financial impact of lost jobs and lost insurance coverage are pushing many to the edge. Some exhibit avoidance tendencies, such as retreating from the world, while others are hypervigilant of the news and social media. Even though those behaviors can amp up anxiety, one symptom alarms Chapman most of all.

“I get concerned when people are numb and feel no sadness, anger, tears, nothing,” she said. “Our bodies are so amazing at helping us to know what it is we need. Even when we react in maladaptive ways, it means your body recognizes something’s not right and is trying to protect itself.”

Chapman recommends listening to your body and working on self awareness. If you find yourself anxious, forgetful, with an elevated heart rate or in your pajamas for the third day in a row, tired or feeling overwhelmed, the first step is to simply acknowledge what you’re feeling.

“Most times, Black and brown people are conditioned not to do this,” Chapman said. “Whether it’s our parents, a spouse or partner, we’re conditioned to ignore our own needs for the sake of outside obligations. We feel guilty prioritizing ourselves when people we care for are in need.”

Especially when prone to substance use or depression, problematic behaviors and coping mechanisms can develop. But noticing these things is the first indication that we need to step back and set boundaries.This includes finding ways to be good to your body:

  • Drink water. If you work from home, keep a pitcher on your desk and refill it at least once a day. Keep healthy snacks such as celery there, too.

  • Give yourself designated exposure times for TV, news and social media consumption. Don’t overconsume media-recorded violence from police or the state.

  • Set phone boundaries.

  • Create space at the start of your day. Give yourself the first hour or first half hour to set your own intentions with no phone, no email. Decide how you will set up today, what you need and what’s the one thing you’d like to work toward. What’s important?

  • Get some sleep. It’s important to create buffers to give your body time to wind down from all the information processed on a daily basis.

“I always encourage people to seek out ways to restore what they’ve put out there, so if you have access to mental health services, virtual yoga classes or meditation apps, take advantage,” Chapman said. “There are a lot of people offering free virtual spaces for Black people to come and process trauma. We know how to heal ourselves.” We’ve listed a few spaces below.

To get help for yourself or a loved one, fill out SJERC’s support request form here. If you are a licensed counselor or therapist interested in offering help, you may submit the provider information form here.


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