Health and Wellness

Exposure to videos of police brutality can be harmful to Black people's mental health: 8 tips for taking care of yourself

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It's become pretty common to see and share videos that depict physical harm being done to Black and brown people — the most recent example being the murder of Tyre Nichols.

Footage of the shocking incident was released online, broadcast on live television and circulated widely on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Whether you choose to watch such videos, or just come across them on your feed, repeated exposure to these acts of violence can be detrimental to your mental health.

And it can be especially harmful for Black people who might identify with the victims, says Charryse Johnson, a licensed clinical mental health counselor.

"It is a constant, what we call, secondary trauma which means we don't have to be a person who was right there in the moment," says Johnson. "But every time we view, or hear, or read about a trauma that's been carried out to someone that is similar to us, or cares about us, it creates a level of trauma on ourselves."

That trauma can increase the chances of Black Americans experiencing anxiety, depression, chronic stress and even insomnia.

In people of color who already have pre-existing cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, "we often see symptoms are aggravated and increased, and flashbacks can return for them, so it's extremely damaging," she says.

Your reaction doesn't have to be big for the videos to have an impact

Johnson worries about the potential implications viewing footage of these traumatic, real-life events can have on your mental health, even if you think it hasn't had an impact.

"There are moments when some of us are 'delayed emotional processors,' so in the moment that an event happens, we're really kind of in holding and we may seem like we're okay," she says.

"It actually takes the body six to 12 weeks to come down from a trauma that we've either experienced or viewed."

If initially you're unfazed, Johnson says it is possible that you'll experience some small, or moderate, symptoms of anxiety and depression within two to three months after being exposed to the incident. And, it could be more difficult to determine where those emotions are coming from after so much time has passed.

It's important to distinguish between if you're actually okay, or if you're only feeling "fine" because you're distancing yourself from what happened as a means of protection.

8 self-care practices you can use to check in with yourself

It is important to check in with yourself after consuming these potentially triggering videos. Johnson encourages you to turn to these practices for support:

  1. Regulate your social media time
  2. Consider non-visual ways to stay informed like reading about what happened
  3. Talk to a good, well-informed friend or family member about the incident
  4. Speak to a therapist about your feelings or discuss what happened with a social justice advocate
  5. Get adequate rest
  6. Eat well and make sure you're getting the nutrients you need
  7. Move your body through exercise or yoga
  8. Meditate when you feel overwhelmed

And if you're up to it, contributing to the healing process of others can also be beneficial for your mental health. "We all benefit from finding ways to be a part of the solution," Johnson says.

"Even if that just means that if somebody else brings up the conversation, and we feel like we're pretty good, being willing to go, 'Do I have something that I can interject into this conversation that will be helpful and positive?'"

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