Op-Ed: ‘We Are Living in a Racism Pandemic,’ Says APA President

High-profile racial incidents taking heavy psychological toll

(WASHINGTON – May 31, 2020) — Following is a statement by Sandra L. Shullman, PhD, president of the American Psychological Association, regarding the mental health consequences of recent high-profile violent events targeting African Americans:

“George Floyd, dead after a police officer knelt on his neck. Ahmaud Arbery, fatally shot while on a jog. Breonna Taylor, shot to death by police raiding her home. Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin — the list is far too long and ever growing. The deaths of innocent black people targeted specifically because of their race — often by police officers — are both deeply shocking and shockingly routine.

If you’re black in America — and especially if you are a black male – it’s not safe to go birding in Central Park, to meet friends at a Philadelphia Starbucks, to pick up trash in front of your own home in Colorado or to go shopping almost anywhere.

We are living in a racism pandemic, which is taking a heavy psychological toll on our African American citizens. The health consequences are dire. Racism is associated with a host of psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety and other serious, sometimes debilitating conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Moreover, the stress caused by racism can contribute to the development of cardiovascular and other physical diseases.

The impact of these repeated horrific incidents is inflicting trauma on the broader African American community. Research shows, for example, that compared with whites, blacks feel more negative stereotype threats and more racial profiling when interacting with the police.

However, psychological research also points to possible solutions. Studies find that when police act in a procedurally just manner and treat people with dignity, respect, fairness and neutrality, people are more likely to comply with their directives and accept any outcome, favorable or unfavorable.

The American Psychological Association urges those who are experiencing trauma in the aftermath of these tragedies to practice self-care. Connect with family, friends and other community support people, talk about your feelings and limit your exposure and that of your children to news media and viral videos. Seek professional help if you need it.

As always, APA stands against racism and hate in all its forms, and supports the efforts of researchers, law enforcement, clinicians, teachers and policymakers to eliminate hate crimes and police brutality.”