The first time I went to therapy, I was in my late twenties and living a double life - conservative Christian bible college by day (hey, it was a really good scholarship) and debaucherous restaurant serving job by night. I was sleeping on a split shift and eventually it caught up to me: at the end of the first year I broke my ankle and was off my feet for 3 months; by the end of the second year, I had a mental breakdown triggered by the odd last straw - my car got towed after I overslept. The school counselor told me I was exhausted - which was somehow a shock to me. I was referred to community therapy, and so began my journey as a client.
Over the next few years, I had a variety of therapists. White women, Asian women, a White man. They were all good in their own ways, but none of them ever brought up race with me. I wasn't surprised, exactly. But I was disappointed. By the time I got to the male therapist, I was significantly depressed. As the worst of my symptoms leveled out, I was working up the nerve to bring up the idea that maybe race was actually a big issue in my life, and probably related to the root causes of the depression that kept cycling back. But with my improved mood, my therapist said it seemed like things were going well and maybe we should think about decreasing sessions. I lost my nerve, which looked a lot like resentment and anger, and stopped going to see him.
As I became interested in becoming a therapist myself, I knew that I wanted to be able to discuss the impact of race openly with clients. In my classes and research projects, I focused on Mixed people and identity development, driven to find out whether anyone was asking the same question: Was there a correlation between the experiences of racism, specifically as experienced by Mixed people, and struggles with mental health?
I did find some data. There were studies showing that Mixed people were sometimes misdiagnosed with anxiety, depression, and even personality disorders because the context of race was not fully explored when they talked about the problems that brought them to therapy. Aha!
Would you be depressed if you couldn't seem to belong, and dealt with lifelong feelings of isolation and inadequacy?
Would you be anxious if you felt like you didn't quite fit in with designated monoracial groups, if you were consistently told you weren't performing race right, and didn't visually match the groups with which you identified?
Would you have an unstable sense of self and a hard time fully and consistently connecting with others if you were constantly challenged in the way you identify versus how people identify you?
And obviously it's not just Mixed people whose mental health is impacted by racialized experiences. Many POC in the United States can attest to the fact that racism and stereotypes are a significant factor in their life experiences and have certainly been related to struggles with mental health.
I would go so far as to say that racial trauma is the larger culprit.
In what ways have your experiences with racism and stereotypes impacted your mental and emotional health?