By Maggie Ryan
The current wave of protests following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many others has been an urgent and much-needed push for change. On a personal level, and especially when it comes to mental health, it can be empowering to experience this sense of unity. But the constant flow of energy and emotion can also become draining, overwhelming, and traumatizing, specifically for Black activists.
Activism impacts your mental health in many different ways. “From a positive perspective, it can be empowering and liberating to experience a collective sense of community,” said Shaketa Robinson Bruce, LPC, NCC, CCH, a licensed professional counselor at Open Arms Counseling Center in Atlanta. This is especially true for Black people and other historically marginalized populations, she told POPSUGAR. “Historically, we haven’t felt empowered to speak up about issues that affect us,” she said. Participating in protests that amplify those voices and those issues can feel freeing and fulfilling, because “you are addressing social issues and racial injustices that matters to you,” said Marline Francois-Madden, LCSW, an author and licensed clinical social worker in New Jersey. “What I’ve heard, specifically from protesters, is ‘I didn’t realize how much I needed that.'”
But protesters may also experience negative emotions, sometimes alongside these feelings of strength and liberation. That’s because activists are working to change injustices that Black people have experienced both for centuries and day in and day out, Francois-Madden explained. “Institutional racism and structural racism have existed for a long time,” she said. “Many activists can feel very exhausted during the fight for racial justice.”
After protests, Bruce has also heard activists speak of feeling overwhelmed or experiencing emotional breakdowns, feeling sadness, grief, anger, or any combination thereof. Parents in particular may feel worried or afraid, “especially if they’re raising Black boys,” Bruce said.
Many protesters are dealing with this emotional stress while actively trying to push for change, a combination that can take its own toll. “We’re seeing a lot of people come together and a lot of organizing,” Bruce said. “But if you’re constantly doing that, it can be exhausting.” When it all comes together – the emotions, the energy drain, the triggering conversations and videos and social media posts – this work “can be traumatizing,” Bruce said. If you neglect your own personal mental health, “it can take a toll that can lead to depression.”
If you have the passion to do this work, you have to have the passion to take care of yourself as well, Bruce explained, because “a car can’t run on an empty tank.” If you don’t take care of your mental health, you won’t be able to create change – but Francois-Madden said some activists may find it difficult to set those boundaries and deal with the sense of guilt that can come from taking a break, as necessary as it is.
Here’s what activists can do to boost their mental health:
The work of activism, while often rewarding, “is very grueling and taxing,” Bruce said. “It’s important to take time out for yourself in the midst of this. In order to keep going, you have to take care of yourself.”
FB: April Green