Racial-based traumatic stress inflicts significant psychological and emotional harm on many within the Black community. (Courtesy photo)

For many people within the Black community, racial trauma – or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) – is a mental health condition that can have significant health consequences if left untreated.

With July recognized as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Kaiser Permanente is raising awareness about mental health issues facing underrepresented groups, including the Black community,  and the importance of seeking timely treatment when needed.

“The tragic death of George Floyd ignited a global movement against racial injustice, shedding light on the deep-seated systemic racism faced by the Black community,” said Chidi Njoku, director of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Kaiser Permanente South Bay.

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“Beyond the immediate tragedy, this incident also exposed the pervasive and lasting impact of racial-based traumatic stress on the mental, emotional and physical well-being of individuals in the Black community.”

Recognizing the impact of racial-based traumatic stress is a necessity, Njoku said. The path to healing begins with acknowledging the existence of racial trauma and providing safe spaces for individuals to share their experiences.

“For many, acts of racism and/or microaggressions are an unfortunate part of our reality,” Njoku noted. “If you have experienced the previously mentioned symptoms in a way that feels unmanageable, you’re more than likely suffering from a race-based traumatic stress injury.”

It’s important to seek help when facing mental health challenges – including those caused by racial trauma, Njoku said. If left untreated, these symptoms can worsen and cause severe problems to your overall health, Njoku stressed. In response to this reality there has been significant work to increase access to providers that represent that community and raise cultural sensitivity of providers that are not of the Black community so as to create more inclusive spaces for those in need of treatment.

Njoku encourages members of the Black community to seek help if they’re experiencing any of the Race-Based Trauma symptoms at a level that’s affecting their ability to be effective in their life.

“If you’re too anxious or depressed to advocate for yourself, it’s okay to lean on someone you trust for support to get the help you need,” Njoku noted. “Remember: As scary as it may feel, one of the most courageous things you can do is take the time to invest in yourself by seeking help.”