The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the impact of systemic inequality on everyday life for millions of Americans, meaning that certain groups of people have been affected more severely by COVID-19 than others. Racism places a tremendous burden on all Americans, but especially Black Americans who are disproportionately affected by unequal systems in our society. For adults and especially children, it is important to find ways to cope with this burden.

Here are some common questions as well as ways Black families can support each other’s mental health and practice self-care.

How do I know when my family is experiencing stress?

  • Find time to check in. If check-ins do not occur naturally, set aside a designated time to talk to your family about their day or week. Remember that stress can come in the form of everyday occurrences (school, work), racism/injustices or larger events happening in the world around us.
  • Find out what kids have been exposed to. Parents and caregivers should not underestimate what their children are being exposed to, especially with the increased video recording of racial violence. That’s why it’s important to ask questions and talk with your kids about what they have been exposed to at school and through the media. Talk to children at their developmental level by using words and phrases they can understand and encourage them to verbalize what they have seen or heard.
  • Look for signs of stress. For children and adults who do not talk about their feelings, there are often signs and symptoms that can indicate stress and negative events. For example, children of color can experience increased anxiety, worry, feelings of threat and suspicion following incidents of racial violence. In addition, behaviors such as aggression, sadness, difficulties paying attention and sleep problems can be signs of trauma in response to seeing racial violence.

When and how do I talk with my family about their stress and emotions?

  • Identify and acknowledge your feelings. It’s important for parents and caregivers to acknowledge their own feelings, to better equip them to better manage the complex emotions kids may be experiencing.
  • Help kids identify how they feel. When talking to kids, it’s often helpful to ask questions to understand what they’re thinking, such as: “What makes you think that?” “What happened that made you feel that way?” or “Why do you think that is?”
  • Identify and acknowledge feelings on a regular basis. Families do not have to wait until a major event or stressor has occurred to talk about feelings. In fact, it’s best to practice and set aside time to check in about feelings.

What should we do as a family to take care of ourselves and cope?

  • Practice self-care. Self-care means taking time for yourself, recharging your batteries and doing anything that brings you joy. These can be physical activities like stretching and exercise, mindfulness and relaxation activities. Spending quality time as a family is also a great self-care activity, which can include things such as date night and activities with friends.
  • Find social support. Connect with your tribe and loved ones whether it be with family, friends or coworkers. Spiritual and religious organizations in your community can also be a great source of support.
  • Get professional support through therapy and/or other behavioral health resources. Therapy can help you and your family develop coping skills and a toolbox for everyday stressors, as well as instances when you or your child are experiencing signs of stress.

What should I consider when looking for a therapist for myself and my family?

  • Be mindful of any barriers and thoughts that may make you hesitant to seek professional support. Common barriers to seeking professional mental health support include stigma about being diagnosed with a mental health disorder or needing therapy, as well as beliefs that certain types of problems should be kept within one’s family or that things have to be “really bad” in order to seek therapy. In addition, it’s important for us to acknowledge that many have a rightful mistrust toward medical providers, due to a long history of medical exploitation of the Black community. It’s okay to have these feelings and voice any concerns to your provider. We hope that by having more conversations about mental health and self-care, we can fight stigma, build trust and eliminate barriers.
  • Do not let lack of availability of BIPOC therapists deter you. It is common for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to prefer a therapist who has a similar background and lived experience. However, if that is not possible to find in your situation, it’s important to not let that deter you from seeking therapy.
  • Think about what is important to you. When considering a therapist, a first step may be to think about factors and issues important to you. This can include specific personal concerns (i.e., divorce, anxiety) as well as cultural and identity factors (i.e., being a part of a faith community or living as an LGBTQIA+ person of color).
  • Identify your expectations and needs. Don’t be afraid to talk about expectations and concerns during your initial meetings with the therapist.
  • Ask questions to decide if the therapist is a good fit. The therapist may not have answers for you immediately. However, it’s important they are willing to acknowledge and self-learn about identity, cultural and systemic factors that affect you. Some questions that may be helpful for BIPOC individuals seeking therapy include:
    • Do you have experience with (name the specific issues you want to address)?
    • Do you have training or experience adapting evidence-based treatments to my culture?
    • How did you learn about my culture?
    • What percentage of your clients are people of color and what are their races/ethnicities?
    • How do you address issues related to societal oppression, like racism, xenophobia and transphobia in therapy?
    • Are you willing to have dialogue and conversation about race/discrimination/social justice?
    • What do you consider in treatment of BIPOC?
    • Have you worked with patients with trauma caused by oppression/racial violence/ intergenerational trauma/microaggressions?
    • Are you willing to incorporate my beliefs/values in therapy (i.e., religion, spirituality)?

Where can I seek professional support?