Coping with killings and COVID: Expert advice on dealing with black traumatic experiences

Posted at 3:34 PM, Jun 02, 2020

HAMPTON ROADS, Va.— We are in a time of extreme worry, anxiety and stress. Experts say those emotions can have a negative effect on our mental health and even lead to issues with our physical health.

For Black Americans, these issues may be exacerbated by the recent killings of Black men and women and the uprising in national protests in response to their deaths.

Ernestine Duncan, professor of psychology at Norfolk State University says many people are struggling.

“There's a real question about the value of life, bringing into the question where are we with humanity,” explained Duncan. “I feel that for people of color, for African Americans specifically, that this time is now being met with lots of messages that strongly suggest that our lives do not matter.”

While African Americans are facing disproportionally higher rates of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, they are also fighting for justice in the wake of the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

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“People feel hopeless. They feel helpless. And those are two very important characteristics that lead to depression. When people are in situations in which they don't see any way out - any way out of making an effective change - it leads very often to feelings of depression,” said Duncan.

Duncan says people may feel anxiety and depression watching or participating in a protest not knowing how it will end. She encourages people to practice self-care when they are feeling overwhelmed.

“That may mean turning off the TV, not watching the news, taking a break from social media because there is literature, science research that suggests that the repeated exposures are detrimental to the health of the people who watch it,” said Duncan.

Related: Local leader says George Floyd protests have been years in the making

Duncan says people should identify what strategies work best for them while they cope with a range of emotions. For some people, she says being able to journal, talk or pray will bring healing, but for others, a therapist is key.

No matter how you’re feeling, Duncan says it’s important for everyone to address these issue head on.

“Addressing it among ourselves so that we can find support and then addressing it with those who don't look like us in an attempt to affect some positive change.”

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