The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 02, 2020 1:00 am

Feeling, and overcoming, vicarious trauma

Jordan Ashley Greene

According to the Pew Research Center, 3.6 billion people worldwide are avid users of social media. It's easy to navigate, available 24 hours a day and allows information to be accessed quickly.

Some 65% of its users turn to social media as their main source to receive breaking news. So, it's no surprise that videos of George Floyd's death were watched more than 1.4 billion times.

Floyd was a 46-year-old, unarmed African American man killed while a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. His horrific death led to protests in more than 2,000 cities and towns in all 50 states, and more than 60 countries around the world.

That video and others like it prompted many discussions in households across the country about the lack of justice for African Americans, police brutality and police reform. As if this weren't the first death captured on camera.

However, there is another critical discussion that needs to take place, and that is the impact of vicarious trauma. According to Mental Health America, “Vicarious trauma happens when there is an indirect traumatic experience caused by viewing images or living with systemic racism and individual racist actions.” For example, one recent study said police shootings can affect people's mental health for three months or more.

Admittedly, I find myself in this group.

On May 25,  the first time I watched the death of George on video, I began to cry uncontrollably. My heart was pounding, and it hurt. Fear gripped my soul as I imagined my own dad lying on the ground. George could have been my dad: tall African American male over 40, with children and a life he was trying to live.

I carried this heaviness for days. I could hear George calling for his mom in my sleep. Like many other African Americans, I was experiencing trauma and didn't know it.

Studies show that 72% of African American men have witnessed a traumatic event, and 59% have learned of a similar event involving friends or family. These events can lead to vicarious trauma.

A week after Floyd's death, 40.5% of African Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, compared with 33.1% of white counterparts.

While African Americans report more symptoms of psychological distress, anxiety and depression, historically we are half as likely to receive treatment. There is often a cultural stigma and a lack of knowledge attached to receiving mental health services.

It's time for us to change the narrative and reject the stigma around mental health. It's time for us to stop normalizing our pain, self-medicating and getting by. The vicarious trauma experienced by the African American community is real, and it's time to sound the alarm.

I want to thank Denita Washington and Fort Wayne Girlz Rock for teaching me how to use my voice to stand up for what's right.

We are under a state of emergency, and we can all play a part.

Jordan Ashley Greene is an author, speaker and Girlz Rock member.

The four R's

Recognize and acknowledge if you are experiencing anxiety or depression.

Reduce social media and other images or experiences that cause you stress.

Create a daily mental, physical and health routine to maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Reach out to family, friends or a professional when in need. The National Help Hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255.

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