Police killings can have profound effects on mental health of Black Americans, expert says

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For many of us, the deadly encounter between George Floyd and four Minneapolis police officer is difficult to watch. Experts say it can be damaging to our mental health, particularly for the black community.

"We are already as a community dealing with a level of historical trauma, so adding this kind of trauma to this layer adds complexity to the many mental health issues that we have to face," said Dr. Jamie Freeny with Mental Health America of Greater Houston. "When I watched it, I was angry."

The video that has now gone viral shows an officer pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee pressed against his neck as he begs for his life.

Freeny says this image can have lasting effects for years and can lead to trauma, anxiety, depression, and even PTSD.

"It affects how we eat, sleep, exercise, how we work, and how we socialize, so this is kind of reminiscent of post-traumatic stress that certainly occurs after viewing the videos, and also the fact that it's not the first one," she said.

In 2018, a study published in British Journal "The Lancet" showed police killings had a profound effect on the mental health of black Americans in the days following those incidents.

In fact, it accounted for an additional 1.7 days of "poor mental health days" for the black community annually. Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, is a co-author of the study.

"We're just trying to understand that there's this big mental health response which we did find, and having found that, I think that the take-home message is police killings are a public health issue, and I think we all have a vested interest in trying to reduce their occurrence," he said.

Freeny hopes Floyd's death will lead to a productive conversation about police violence but she says it's important for the community to work on healing.

"Coping with it, it's going to be different for everybody, but there's some things that we can suggest such as healing circles - a space where you're with friends and family and can talk honestly about how you're feeling if it's anger, if it's sadness," she said.

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