Juggling political activism and mental health, from five Black professionals

ALEXANDRIA JOHNSON | 6/11/2020, 7:15 a.m.
Ordinarily, the Amsterdam News selects one great individual to be our Black New Yorker.
Jessica Thomas, Dr. Keba Rogers, Amira Crawford, Dr. Adjoa Osei and Dr. Vanessa Dabel Contributed photos

Ordinarily, the Amsterdam News selects one great individual to be our Black New Yorker. This week we talk to five mental health professionals about coping in this particular time of crisis.

Over the next few weeks we will be profiling these five women individually, but we thought because of timeliness of the issue, we would highlight them together for their work in this week’s paper.

After the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd, citizens around the world started protests against police brutality. Even though these issues are not new, social media played a role in broadcasting video footage of these murders at the hands of police officers. 

With the videos of Officer Derek Chauvin keeping his foot on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds as well as Arbery chased by Greg and Travis McMichael for a morning jog, these images are especially traumatizing for members of the Black community. They struggle whether to stay informed from the news at the risk of harming their mental health. 

The New York Amsterdam News spoke with five Black mental health professionals who specialize in discussing racial identity. Not only do they discuss how police brutality leads to racial trauma, but they provide strategies for their peers who want to prioritize their health while being politically active.

Jessica Thomas is a mental health and substance abuse counselor (MHC-LP, CASAC-T) at Viva Wellness, a private practice located in Brooklyn Heights. She defines the concept of racial trauma and how the multiple videos demonstrating instances of police brutality can exacerbate this for members of the Black community.

“Racial trauma happens as a result of the constant exposure of race-based stress such as racial discrimination, instances of police brutality, macro and micro-aggressions and hate crimes that have happened throughout generations, Thomas said. “These symptoms can be triggered by videos that show the lack of respect of the humanity of Black people, which makes it difficult to navigate.”

When Thomas worked at both her college’s counseling and LGBTQA centers, she noticed that there were not many Black people or people of color who felt open to utilizing these services for themselves, which made her want to become a mental health professional.

“It is important we change the stigma about seeking therapy because the suicide rate is increasing for Black people.” Thomas said. “It’s important to have therapy spaces where you don’t have to explain yourself. I wanted to be a face within the therapy profession so that people could see that we’re here, we exist and you can come to us.”

In the same vein as Thomas, Dr. Adjoa Osei also acknowledges the stigma that members of the Black community have in regards to mental health and addressing racist encounters.

“It can be challenging for Black clients growing up because we receive messages that encourage silence around talking publicly about racism and we don’t always have spaces to do so.” Osei said. “Speaking about race can be uncomfortable, so I make sure to provide a space where they can receive validation for the encounters they experience.”