When we are repeatedly exposed to viral videos and graphic depictions of black death, it can trigger PTSD-like symptoms, according to Monnica Williams, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville.
In an interview with PBS’ News Hour’s Kenya Downs, Williams describes repeated exposure to disturbing videos of black death as “vicarious trauma” and said that, for black people, seeing that trauma can be hazardous to one’s mental health.
“There’s a heightened sense of fear and anxiety when you feel like you can’t trust the people who’ve been put in charge to keep you safe. Instead, you see them killing people who look like you,” Williams explained. “Combined with the everyday instances of racism, like microaggressions and discrimination, that contributes to a sense of alienation and isolation. It’s race-based trauma.”
Williams noted that the psychological effects were easy to see during the week of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s deaths, as many people pleaded with other social media users not to share the traumatizing videos.
“It’s upsetting and stressful for people of color to see these events unfolding. It can lead to depression, substance abuse and, in some cases, psychosis. Very often, it can contribute to health problems that are already common among African-Americans such as high blood pressure.”
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