How fighting racial injustice can impact mental health

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- In the days following the death of Houston native George Floyd, thousands of people have gathered across the nation demanding justice and an end to racial inequality.

But for many, the push for change has also been met with pain and mental anguish.

"Many people don't understand how people in the black community are feeling right now and how this continues to affect us in multiple ways," Dr. Jamie Freeny with Mental Health America of Greater Houston said.

Freeny says processing these recent events combined with dealing with a history of racial inequality can heighten anxiety for many black Americans, which can also take a toll on their daily lives.

"Hopelessness and outrage, that definitely affects how we're sleeping at night. It affects if we're getting healthy meals, if we're exercising every day. That can truly affect how we show up to work. It affects the decisions that we make," Freeny said.

In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health shows increased racism resulted in up to four additional poor mental health days for black people each year. Freeny says it's important for people to focus on ways to cope.

"Take time to do something you enjoy doing to give your mind a break from all that's happening. Take time to meditate or pray. This can help improve clarity and evoke calmness," she said.

She also encourages people to take advantage of Mental Health America's free online screening and know that you're not alone in dealing with mental exhaustion.

"It's okay to feel sad, it's okay to feel upset and angry, it's okay to be vulnerable, and I think that message is important right now because we're going through a lot," Freeny said.

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