Coping Strategies and Resources for Racial Trauma

| June 4, 2020
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The Office of Student Health and Well-Being’s motto is “Be well. Do well.” Most often, this advice is meant to remind students that mental and physical self-care are essential to professional wellness (ie, academic success). But wellness is (like justice) inherently intersectional, so the same logic applies to social wellness.

Black lives matter. Being Black or Brown in America means coping with the cumulative effects of racism and microaggressions, as well as the trauma associated with the most recent tragedies.

In this post we’ve assembled some statements about racial trauma from health leaders, coping strategies adapted from the JED Foundation, and a list of Hopkins-sponsored wellness resources.

Change must happen, and working for change can be exhausting. Use every resource available to you to rest and heal and grow, so that you will be better able to work for justice.

Racial Trauma

In a recent letter to colleagues, Bloomberg School of Public Health Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie enumerated the relationship between racism and health outcomes: “Law enforcement violence is a public health issue. It is just one dimension of racism as a present and deadly force in our society. As shocking as these high-profile examples are, they represent the tip of the iceberg of persistent racial inequities that constitute a crisis for public health. African American babies die before their first birthday at more than twice the rate of white newborns. African American women die at more than twice the rate of other women during pregnancy and childbirth. African American adults suffer far higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, and other serious chronic illnesses.The life expectancy of African Americans is 3.5 years shorter than for white Americans. The roots of these and other mortal disparities run deep to the structural and institutional racism that shapes policing, housing, transportation, education, and health.”

In a statement on current events that included a list of African-American health resources, National Alliance on Mental Illness CEO Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. said, “The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real and cannot be ignored. The disparity in access to mental health care in communities of color cannot be ignored. The inequality and lack of cultural competency in mental health treatment cannot be ignored.”

The racial trauma (a cumulative experience of racial discrimination and dangerous or traumatic events) experienced by the Black people in the Johns Hopkins community, as well as the people of color, has very real emotional and psychological impact.

Coping Strategies

The following coping strategies for stressful times are adapted from the JED Foundation’s Coping with Violence, Trauma & Tragedy tip sheet:

  • Press pause. Step away from the news occasionally, and take a moment to reflect when you have an emotional reaction to something before responding. This strategy will help you determine which reactions are going to help you cope and contribute to solving a program, and which are counterproductive. Staying informed and engaged is crucial, but so is staying healthy.
  • Take care of yourself. While jumping into advocate mode and ignoring our own pain is an understandable reaction, it isn’t always effective or healthy. It’s OK to reach out to friends, family, and health providers for support.
  • Take care of others. Be aware of the warning signs of depression, distress, and hopelessness. If you notice someone struggling, trust your instinct and start that conversation.
  • Take thoughtful actions. Be cautious about sharing news and videos with depictions of violence. Ask yourself why you are sharing it, and include information that includes a solution, action items, and/or resources. Constructive conversations can educate and mobilize, but name-calling and mudslinging are ineffective, anxiety-producing, and frustrating.

Johns Hopkins Resources

  • Calm. Free premium access to this award-winning meditation and sleep app is free to all Hopkins affiliates. Sleep is important for mental health, especially after experiencing trauma. Go to calm.com/jhu to register for the free access; don’t download directly from the App Store or Google Play. Additionally, Calm allows users to share free 30-day “guest passes” with up to five people per month. If you want to share a Calm guest pass with people outside the Hopkins community, follow these instructions. (It’s the little present icon in the top right-hand corner of the app’s home page.)
  • Free access to Mental Telehealth, powered by TimelyMD, for all students and learners, through September 10, 2020. This tool was created in response to the COVID pandemic, because state-by-state licensure regulations make it difficult for providers in one state to provide services in other states. Mental Telehealth has providers licensed in all 50 states. Additionally, most if (not all) Mental Telehealth providers have profile pictures and short bios if you want to learn more about them before initiating an appointment. If you are interested in a provider who matches your demographic profile, there’s a good chance you’ll find one who can serve you.
  • Free access to the SilverCloud platform, for all full-time students and learners over the age of 18. SilverCloud is a self-directed online learning program that teaches cognitive behavioral therapy skills, which can help to relieve mild-to-moderate anxiety and depression. Learning about the thought-feeling-behavior cycle and how to break it can be helpful if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the news. Another module called “Challenging Times” has advice on how to create or maintain a sense of equilibrium during chaotic periods.
  • Homewood Counseling Center (410-516-8278). This office provides mental health and wellness services to Homewood and Peabody students. Students can (in some cases, depending on your current location) schedule telehealth appointments with counselors, and the providers are also doing some online programming. They also maintain a page of resources related to racial trauma.
  • Physical Activity. Working out is perhaps the last thing on people’s minds right now. But exercise has a tremendous effect on mood, and streaming classes from the O’Connor Rec Center and the Cooley Center are an accessible, affordable, and safe way to work out at home. Both centers have opened their online offerings to all students. Additionally, SHWB has created two yoga mindful videos with Nila Mechali Berger, a yoga teacher with certifications in trauma-informed yoga. The 15-minute option is beginner friendly and more of a meditation than a workout, although there is some movement. The 40-minute session is a workout, although it’s designed to be adaptable for beginners and advanced yoga students.
  • Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program (JHSAP). This office serves SOM, SON, BSPH, SOE, CBS, SAIS, AAP, and EFP students.
  • University Health Services (UHS). This office serves the physical and mental health needs of BSPH, SOM, and SON.

If you are in an acute state of crisis, please go here. If you are having difficulty accessing Hopkins-sponsored resources, please email wellness@jhu.edu.

To explore all the mental wellness resources available to Hopkins students, visit this page.


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