Anti-racism activism can be quite demanding on psychological well-being. Anxiety and depression triggered by debates and discussions can be quite taxing. We speak to three Torontonian therapists for guidance on how to engage in self care while raising your voice against anti-Black racism.

Cayo Whyte

#BlackLivesMatter is no longer trending on Social Media. It is not breaking news anymore. But, the protests are still going strong in different ways, and the fire doesn’t seem to be something that can easily be doused. While the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the US was the trigger, the movement has opened up space for dialogue across the world about institutional or systemic racism.

However, the perseverance of the protesters is not without its price. A recent survey by the US Census Bureau revealed that anxiety and depression have spiked among Black communities as a result of the recent demonstrations and debates revolving around systemic racism. The dialogues around the subject—especially the reactions on the internet and incidents like a man turning up at Toronto protest in blackface—have not been easy on the minds of Black peoples and allies.

Amidst this, we reached out to three Toronto-based therapists who belong to and have worked extensively with Black communities in Canada to know about the impact of racism and protests on mental health. Here are ten things they suggest how people can take care of their emotional and mental well being while fighting racism. 

Judith Wong

Ground yourself

If you happen on some news or a racist incident that triggers anxiety or depression, it is essential to start by grounding yourself. “Look around you and observe the surroundings with your senses. Experience five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch and so on. This helps soothe you by focusing on the present,” informs clinical therapist Judith Wong, who practices from Village Centre Court in Mississauga. Many such grounding techniques can easily be found through a Google search.

Sit with your emotions

Pushing back against anger or rage can cause it to become persistent. Therefore, therapist Leo D Edwards says that it is important to embrace the emotion you are feeling and sit with it. “Think of emotions like the weather. Sometimes there are hails, sometimes there is snow, but none of that is permanent. The pain or anger is not permanent and it is important to accept what we feel,” says Leo, who has his office at Euclid Avenue in Toronto.

Converse with the Community

It might sound like stating the obvious, but psychotherapists put some stress on talking to someone from the community. Sometimes, the environment in which you discuss racism can make some of you feel alienated or left alone in what you are trying to convey. In these cases, it is essential to talk to someone who shares similar experiences. This will help you “understand why you feel the way you feel.”

Disconnect and reconnect

We live in the age of Social Media and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Seeing the brutal images of racism can feel like a punch to the gut. “This is a time with an abundance of information. The world is in an uproar because they got to witness what happened (with George Floyd). If there is too much news out there and if people are angry and upset, it is their right. But, they can’t stay that way. If people feel overwhelmed they should disconnect, engage in self-care and then get back,” informs therapist and life coach Cayo Whyte, who works from Eglinton Avenue East in Toronto.

Seek safe spaces

A personal strategy that Judith uses and advises is to start a conversation where there is “a room or space to enlighten and educate”. “It is difficult to engage people if they refuse to acknowledge their privilege. It is important to feel safe while you counter racism and make use of situations where there is a possibility of informing people right,” informs Judith, who says she personally makes sure to call out people who cite stereotypes in academic or training environments.

Leo D Edwards

Celebrate ‘Black joy and Black beauty’

Leo believes that celebrating the joys of the root culture you come from can help address trauma. “If you are Jamaican and enjoy Reggae, engage in that or if you are from Trinidad and Tobago and like Soca music, indulge a bit in that. This will help with the experiences of trauma that can make it very difficult for us to be happy,” informs Leo.

Need for the spiritual

Decolonizing the mental health practices is something that Cayo is keen on. “Therapists and social workers are trained in a colonized system which makes it difficult for them to support people who were colonized. I believe that we need to pull from indigenous peoples’ concepts like the medicine wheel and add spiritual wellness to the biopsychosocial model. I find that, for a lot of my Black clients, casting cares on the creator of the universe is an important part of healing,” informs Cayo.

Cleanse the inner and outer

A clean physical and mental space is also of great importance in Leo’s opinion. “An orderly physical environment allows you to vibrate on a higher level and that will sweep away the negative thoughts and the pain from COVID-19 and the protests. Also, there is a lot of negativity around what it means to be Black. So, practice gratitude in life—wake up daily by remembering something that is going right in your life or among your family circle and give thanks for that. This will help you distance yourself from the stress you experience in life,” says Leo.

Symbolic protest

For some, going out on the street or striking up debates can cause quite some distress. Cayo suggests that other symbolic means of protests like boycotting certain brands and watching where you spend your money can be a good means of support.

Find focus

The conversations have to go on. So, therapists suggest that Black people who have had the privilege to be academically exposed have to focus on moving from anger to find a purpose in educating the people. It is essential to find impetus in informing not just Black folks but also the communities they live in on how they can offer support.

Beyond suggesting methods for individuals to keep their mental health in balance, the therapists also suggest a few systemic changes that are essential.

* Decolonize the mental health education system. There should be more studies into how Black people traditionally handled their mental health and the trans-generational trauma created by slavery as discussed by Dr. Joy DeGruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome theory.

* They suggest that privileged people should go beyond expressing their guilt. Instead of taking to Social Media platforms to talk about guilt, they can speak out about what they are doing to create a platform of equity.

* Create more funding for Black mental health. Cayo laments that there are very few men from the Black communities who become social workers. So, there should be more resources available to people so they can get the right education. They should also be given more agency to work with people from their communities.