Mental Health In The African American Community During The Trump Era

Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign stop at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo by Matt A. J.

Kayla Irby, Howard University News Service

Washington D.C.– Starting on March 2, 2018, a series of bombs were left on the doorsteps of African-American and Hispanic residents in Austin, Texas. These events left two people dead.

Desaree W. McKinney resides less than a half an hour away from where the bombing incidents occurred.

For her, the bombings caused her much anxiety and despair. McKinney, who is African-American, said she was paranoid and stressed.

“The bombings immediately triggered all my anxiety and all of my OCD. It was difficult. I went to go open my garage every day and would literally hold my breath because I didn’t know. I didn’t know if there was a bomb attached to the garage door. I didn’t know if someone was waiting there. I just didn’t know,” McKinney said.

For McKinney, a proofreader for the Texas Legislative Council, it hit hard because it exacerbated her mental health issues, something she has dealt with for years.

“When you see yourself in the media as a black person being targeted, it could be you. It was very triggering in a lot of different ways,” McKinney said.

For the bombings to target and kill African-Americans, McKinney was disheartened not only for her but also for her daughter.

McKinney is one of the millions of African-Americans who have dealt with mental health issues, which are often times impacted by race and how they are treated in a country that has a long history of discrimination.

Tramaine EL-Admin, senior director of the National Council for Behavioral Health said African-Americans experience common factors that lead to mental health issues.

“The impact of generational trauma as a result of the slave trade in the United States, the impact of economic dis-empowerment, the impact of other things in areas that really impact black Americans in their communities — they’re going to be felt a little bit differently, and they might impact that individual’s mental health in certain ways that are similar,” EL-Admin said.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to develop severe mental health issues than any other race.

Mental Health America stated that out of the 13.2 percent of African-Americans in the United States, over 16 percent had a diagnosable mental illness within the past year. That is more than 6.8 million African-Americans, which is more people than the populations of Philadelphia, Houston and Chicago put together.

The Impact Of Enslavement

Many sources and experts believe that slavery itself is heavily linked to poor mental health within the black community. Research has shown that slavery has been the cause of specific symptoms of dysfunction within blacks living in America.

The impact of slavery has influenced the association between being African and being inferior, unequal, incapable and less important. It influences a detrimental way of thinking and this causes growth and development to hinder.

Jan Desper Peters, executive director of the Black Mental Health Alliance for Education & Consultation Inc., said the prime factor in poor mental health within the black community is racism.

“If you look at the beginnings of our being brought to this country, most of our people were brought here forcibly and then enslaved. So, there’s trauma as it relates to us being an enslaved people, trauma as it relates to being brutalized emotionally, physically, and all other kinds of ways you could think of. Traumatized through familiar relationships that were not valued, traumatized through the fact that we were not valued as human beings,” Peters said.

McKinney deals with issues of anxiety and has obsessive-compulsive disorder. She says that she now maintains these disorders and they aren’t as crippling as they were previously.

“It is my habit that if I interact with someone, and they kind of trigger that, I kind of push it back or suppress it. I recognize that the more that I suppress it, the more that it bubbles up and comes out in unexpected ways. For me, I know that I need to address that every day in order to have a better handle of my mental health,” McKinney said.

Handling her mental health during the bombings was an arduous process and it wasn’t helped by what she saw as President Donald Trump’s poor reaction to it. Trump tweeted, “AUSTIN BOMBING SUSPECT IS DEAD. Great Job by law enforcement and all concerned!” Although, the suspect committed suicide inside of his car.

Trump waited to speak on the situation until the serial bomber was caught, not deeming the suspect as a terrorist.

“He didn’t even address the loss of the lives of the two African-American men who had died. I think the way he handled it basically shows the way he views the African-American community. We don’t matter to him.” McKinney said.

President Trump has not been a popular figure in the African-American community due to what many see as his racist actions and statements. His approval rating among black Americans is 12 percent.

Trump’s Actions Impact The Black Community

Lauren Carson, the founder of Black Girls Smile Inc., believes the racism shown specifically by the president and his supporters’ causes immense stress to those in the African-American community.

“The impact that it has on the racial identity and the acceptance as Americans and as humans greatly impact the way the individual thinks about themselves and themselves as individuals in society,” Carson said.

“The comments that are made, the tweets that we hear, specifically from Donald Trump and from his supports—a lot of African-Americans, while we are able to rally around each other and our racial identity for events such as Black Panther, there’s still a day-to-day anxiety that comes with being African-American in very advanced societies,” Carson said.

Carson said there is a huge disconnect between the acceptance of African-Americans and black people’s statuses as American citizens.

Another leading cause of poor mental health within African-Americans is poverty.

According to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, adult African-Americans that live below the poverty line are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above the poverty line.

Larke Huang, director of the Office of Behavioral Health Equity at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said people of color are disproportionately represented in poverty. Many minorities are below, at– or just above the poverty line.

In 2003, a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that mental health progresses when persons and or communities are out of poverty.

EL-Admin said some African-Americans may be afraid to take charge, revolt or speak out against the administration because they are heavily dependent on social programs provided by the government.

“Because a lot of people of color– communities of color–those that are disenfranchised economically–all of those groups rely a lot of times on things like social programs, food stamps, all these other kinds of support that keep that most vulnerable among us safe in some respect,” EL-Admin said.

“When you attack that whether it’s this administration or another administration, those opportunities may not be there. Unfortunately, it creates an environment where someone can be additionally stressed on top of everything else they’re dealing with,” EL-Admin said.

EL-Admin points out that 1 in 5 people across the U.S may be diagnosed with a serious mental illness at any given time during the year.

“Only 20 percent of those people are going to get treatment sometimes. That rate for access to treatment depends on one’s financial status, economic status and what kind of situation they have financially,” EL-Admin stated.

“For African-Americans a lot of times the impact of poverty– the impact of other kinds of stressors, whether that’s generational trauma, situational trauma, environmental issues— all of those things impact whether one would go to get treatment services,” EL-Admin said.

As for McKinney, she defines her current mental health as being in a phase where she’s trying to revamp what self-care looks like for herself.

“I realized that I don’t spend enough time addressing my own mental health or my physical health. Ideally what I would like is to be able to spend some alone time even if it’s just an hour a day to kind of process everything that’s gone on throughout the day,” McKinney said.

McKinney describes Trump’s implemented laws on immigration astounding. She says that the president’s crude behavior on subjects such as DACA and Haitian immigrants remind her of Martin Niemoller’s poem on the German individuals following the Nazis rise to eliminate their decided targets.

“He came into this administration and he’s just slowly changing laws for one ethnic group and another and another and another, and I feel like it’s only a matter of time until he reaches us (African Americans),” McKinney said.

Since his time in office, Trump has publicly attacked multiple African-American public figures such as Stephen Curry, Oprah, Jay-Z, Barack Obama, Jemele Hill of ESPN, among others.

Peters said the comments and actions made by Trump are expected, and many African-Americans aren’t surprised by his behavior.

“I think that we are angry that a person in his position—and it’s not even really that it’s Trump—it’s that you’re the president of the United States. As a president of the United States you’re supposed to be for all people, not just your base,” Peters said.

Peters further explained how Trump feels infuriated that he can’t do anything about the actions of blacks. For example, when the Golden State Warriors declined the president’s request to visit the White House for their championship victory.

Trump then publicly uninvited them on Twitter, even though they already said they would not be in attendance. Another example is when Rep. John Lewis didn’t attend the State of the Union address, or the Democratic Congressional Members not standing up and clapping for him.

“The only thing he can do is kind of lash out and make inappropriate comments, hurtful comments, but we are resilient people, and the commentary he has about us and countries where there are primarily brown and black people are not true,” Peters said.

In McKinney’s case, Trump becoming president was extremely unexpected for her. When she first heard the breaking news that Trump became president, she was devastated. She voted for Hillary Clinton and didn’t think Donald Trump would actually end up becoming president.

“I cried. I was completely devastated. I wanted to hug my child and I wanted to wake up my husband.”

“I felt so angry that basically this man sitting on a platform of racism is validate. It showed me that there are so many people in my daily life that smile in my face and who go to church with me that basically voted for this person and thought it was okay. I felt like that was an invalidation of who I was as a person and as a black woman,” McKinney said.