As the daughter of immigrant parents and a minority woman myself, I’ve experienced everything from being the only one of “me” in a room to seeing my community portrayed as criminals or less than on the news. Feelings of isolation, sadness, and even anger can surface during these times. As a therapist, I’ve seen these similar struggles, and more, in many of my minority clients as well. During Minority Mental Health Month, I felt it was appropriate to provide a list of ways to protect one’s mental health as a minority. I try my best to implement the items on this list on a regular basis and, perhaps, you should too.
- Know your boundaries and triggers. What topics of conversations are off-limits for you? Beware of hot button topics such as politics, race, and religion. Have an exit strategy or “one-liner” ready for use when you do not want to weigh in on a particular topic. Also, knowing your triggers and how to avoid them can make all the difference in how you manage your interactions throughout the day.
- Don’t engage in lengthy debates. Let’s face it, sometimes we cannot always get out of the conversation. If caught in a heated debate while in a professional setting, try to understand that the other person(s) may never see your point of view. It is not mentally healthy to force your point of view on someone or become upset if the other person (s) do not agree with you. Some people cannot or chose not to understand. It is ok to agree to disagree and still be civil. Keep that energy for someone or something else that plays an important role in your life.
- Limit social media & news outlets. This is a given but had to be put on the list. Minorities are not always portrayed in a positive way on news and social media outlets. Limit time spent on these sites by either checking them once a day or taking periodic breaks from them all together. Try not to start or end your day with potential negativity. An alternate approach would be to follow outlets that are uplifting and show people of color in a positive light.
- Find creative, playful, and spiritual outlets. The weight of constantly analyzing, discussing, and trying to solve minority concerns, occurring locally and abroad, can definitely take a toll on your mental health. It is very important to regularly enjoy life and find opportunities that bring you joy and moments of peace. Find ways to immediately distress right after work, school, or any emotionally draining situation.
- Hand select your tribe and closest companions. Friendships at work and school may be convenient but not always nourishing once you leave that environment. Select people you can truly be yourself around and be intentional about who you let in your circle.
- Take up a worthy cause, be a change agent. Let’s face it, change can sometimes take years to manifest, and not all change will be seen in your lifetime. While change cannot occur in a day, you can take small steps right in your community. Consider mentoring someone of a similar background, donating to a non-profit, volunteering, or even showing up for a school’s career day. Be the change you want to see.
- Seek out mentors for yourself. It is vital for career and academic success to seek out those who have paved the way before you. Do not feel you have to face difficult or unchartered territory alone. Join professional organizations or mentoring groups to locate possible mentors that you can call on for professional advice and guidance. Don’t be afraid to network and put yourself out there.
- Limit opportunities for re-traumatization. Many people do not always know they have experienced trauma, and this is especially true within minority populations. Be mindful of people, situations, or places that have the potential for high and ongoing emotional distress. Intense and continuous mental distress opens the door to trauma. Limit opportunities for re-traumatization by distancing yourself, implementing radical self-care/love, and making necessary changes.
- Seek therapy when needed. Being discriminated against, labeled, or judged in multiple environments can certainly take its toll. Traumatic experiences may not always be understood by our friends and family. Be sure to find a culturally competent provider when talking to friends or family is not enough. Therapy can help you better communicate, create boundaries, identify triggers, and provide other ways to protect your mental health.
- Always know your worth and be prepared to make a change. Whether you’re the only person of color in your environment or do not feel like your opinions are being heard, know that you deserve to be in whatever room life takes you! You are smart enough, you are capable, and you worked hard to get to where you are. Never let environment, labels, or people doubt your worth. If you are constantly in a place that has you questioning your worth and you’ve tried all the tips above, don’t be afraid to move on and make a change.
P.S. Remember growth can happen anywhere, even in the stuck places.