Fast Company’s podcast Creative Conversation is doing a special three-part series covering specific issues within the ongoing protests for racial equality. Every Thursday this month, we’ll be spotlighting the creatives and professionals using their backgrounds, skills, and platforms to push for lasting change.
2020 has to be one of the most destabilizing years on record.
The heath crisis and economic fallout of COVID-19 ushered in the year, a highly divisive presidential election will cap things off, and right now the ongoing emergency of police brutality and systemic racism has resurged in full force following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and more.
The high anxieties surrounding all the political, social, and health-related unrest has pushed the conversation of mental health to the forefront—and the black community should be the most mindful.
From COVID-19 affecting black people at disproportionate rates to the current battle for substantive changes to the mechanisms of racism running the country, the black community continues to face elevated levels of stress, which can cause significant and lasting damage to physical and mental health.
However, a large part of that particular battle is recognizing poor mental health in the first place—and, for some, getting around preconceived hangups of seeking help.
Dr. Jessica Clemons, MD, is a renowned psychiatrist in New York City who has been a trailblazer in the community for using her platform to help reduce the stigma and confusion around mental health with a steady stream of Q&A sessions and tips on Instagram, and her IRL conversation series Be Well.
“A lot of what I do is try to be very honest about the history of this field of psychiatry,” Clemons says. “There’s a lot of pain that we have to address, and therapy is a really excellent way to do that, to talk about our experiences.”
Clemons’s approach to making mental health more accessible has been acknowledged by the American Psychiatric Association (and Beyoncé), and in this episode of Creative Conversation she breaks down how to look for signs of mental distress, shares how black people can navigate the current social landscape in a healthy way, offers up pro-tips for self-care, and more.
Below are snippets from the Creative Conversation with Clemons. Be sure to listen to the full episode below or wherever you get your podcasts.
Letting your guard down when we’re trained to keep it up
“The other thing to think about it, especially now that we’re having more greater awareness around the anti-black movement, is hypervigilance, those sorts of trauma symptoms. You might not actually meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, but there are a lot of studies that are showing that racism [and] police killings really do negatively affect the mental health of black people. Things like being hypervigilant, being very keen and aware of your environment, startling easily, not being able to sleep well, doing things like drinking more alcohol or using more marijuana when you’re feeling stressed—those all may indicate that someone is, in fact, suffering mentally. We may think that’s normal, it’s normal to be hypervigilant, but it’s not.”
Stressing out in plain sight
“I see people using the term [anxiety] a lot more, but it doesn’t look like what people are seeing in their minds. I will say, during medical school, before I really even had better experience with this field, I would imagine anxiety as a middle-aged white woman who’s just vocalizing a lot of her fears, and people saying it’s fine. I think people still, when they say anxiety, are picturing that. One of the things that I want people to recognize is that it’s not always a vocalization of what your fears are.”
Self-care is more than treating yourself
“Having healthy boundaries is a way to practice self-care. Learning how to say no, learning when to say no. Learning that saying no is not a bad thing. It doesn’t ruin relationships, even if it feels like it will, but it helps to protect you. You cannot pour from an empty cup.”