Racism causes and exacerbates anxiety and other mental health concerns. One in four Black Americans are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, aggravated by racism. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) acknowledges that racism also complicates challenges in receiving help for other ailments. This relationship creates an intersection between ableism and racism, two challenges that need solutions.
Racism and Psychological Ableism
Psychiatry has a long history of being used to control those who present or behave in a way opposite to what is expected in mainstream society. Today, we have the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5, which helps counselors and therapists identify psychological maladies. One of the main criticisms of this instrument is that its existence is based on eurocentric, patriarchal cultural norms and therefore, pathologizes any behaviors or beliefs that exist outside of those outlined in the manual.
This is harmful because it erases and marginalizes all patients that are children, female, do not present as “left-brained,” have social mores that are more communal than individual, and have intense emotional and physical sensations. This is compounded when those who have these traits are melanated and are treated as if they have a disability due to their genetic makeup. The use of medication such as Ritalin and Adderall to “control” children, more specifically Black children, is harmful if it doesn’t address actual brain imbalances.
It takes everyday work to be an ally and not lean on privilege. Here are a few ways you can help those who need it:
- Do authentic work when providing services that were not asked for.
- Remember that just because you can not see a person’s ailment, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
- Understand that an event or proclivity may not be distressing to you but it might be to another person due to culture, upbringing, and expectations.
- Encourage and allow those who need assistance to speak for themselves, while honoring their concerns and requests. Do not change or influence what they want for your own benefit.
- Provide adequate resources to allow those you are assisting to help themselves.