Lola Jaye is an author and psychotherapist in the UK covering topics such as racism and mental health. In the below interview, she discusses the #BlackLivesMatter movement, racial trauma, micro aggressions and inequalities amongst the black community.

Cathal – The #BlackLivesMatter movement has had an adverse affect on the global black communities mental health. As a psychotherapist actively working with people who have been affected – what is the biggest issue being faced by your clients?

Lola – To safeguard confidentiality, I am unable to discuss clients, but what is happening globally now in terms of the Black Lives Matter movement is much needed, and at the same time can have an affect on the mental health of black people as a whole. This is because it highlights the significant role that race and systemic racism play both historically and in today’s world. In the past, black people have had to “put up and shut up” in the face of micro aggressions, prejudice and racial pro-filing – and now it is finally allowed to be discussed openly – and on a world stage.

This isn’t about the Black Lives Matter movement, this is about the society of which it was born.

Continual news coverage showing the murder of a black person can feel “brutalising” and can just feed into the disrespect with which non white people are treated – as if not quite human. The ‘live’ murder of countless black people being shown over the internet and television as if it were entertainment is both distressing and dehumanising. Therefore, this re experiencing of racial trauma can have a devastating effect on the mental health of black people, as there is a reliving of whatever trauma the person has gone through, time and time again.

Cathal – You have spoken in the past about “micro aggressions” towards black people. This is a relatively new term to me – excuse my ignorance. Can you elaborate more on this term with regards racism?

Lola – Simply put, micro-aggressions, are indirect, sometimes unintentional, other times intentional expressions of racism, sexism, ageism, or ableism. Such negative messages, verbal and behavioural ‘slights’ or insults can feel uncomfortable, unsafe, hostile and toxic. Therefore, within the context of race; the undetectable tendency helps to widen the gap of racial realities. and thus reinforce white privilege.

Some examples of microagressions:

– You are so articulate, you don’t sound black!

– I’m not racist, I have black friends!

– Big hair today. Planning on having it like that in the important staff meeting later?

– Black or white we all have the same opportunities for success.

As the name suggests, micro-aggressions may start ‘small’ but they can have a colossal impact on a person’s mental health especially say, in the workplace where this may go on for a length of time.

Cathal – In Ireland, more and more public figures have been talking about racist abuse they have received. This must have an affect on mental health. What kind of repercussions can this have on an individual subjected to racial abuse?

Lola – It is important for us to first look at the significant role that race and systemic racism play both historically and in today’s world which can, and is, affecting individuals psychologically.

A result of this out and out racist abuse can be for some, an experience of anxiety, anger, exhaustion and a feeling of powerlessness in the face of racial inequalities and injustices.

The experience of racism – both direct and indirect in the form of micro-aggressions or exposure to racism via social media for example, can also have a devastating effect on the mental health of black people. This effect – known as “racial trauma” – can lead to depression, hypervigilance, chronic stress and fatigue, bodily inflammation and symptoms similar to post traumatic stress dis-order. A lack of psychological well-being as we know, can lead to other issues such as physical ill health.

Cathal – Ancestral trauma is a huge problem here. Generations could potentially and most probably be affected as a result of the trauma around the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Do these movements contribute to further racial tension in communities?

Lola – Ancestral trauma

Psychotherapists generally acknowledge that a client may have a reaction to recent events that have roots in the past. In the context of racism, this can include unhealed inter-generational wounds such as psychological and social trauma passed down from previous generations. For example, from parents who arrived in the UK during the 1950s and 60s to hostility from the masses who did not welcome a new wave of so called immigrants.

Research on trauma transmission. suggests that each generation may ‘learn’ from the previous one. In the context of racism, messages such as ‘Don’t trust others, don’t trust the world may be transmitted through generations based on a lived experience. Hearing such traumatic stories of survival can position black people from an early age to believe their immediate world is a threatening one – which often gets proven over and over again by their own interactions and society as a whole.

Cathal – Whilst racism itself is a huge problem to tackle – How do we deal with the inequalities that exist in the mental health services towards the black community?

Lola – In both the US and the UK, the majority of counsellors and psychotherapists are white. This, coupled with the high financial costs, means that black people may be less inclined to access services because of the therapist’s perceived lack of understanding when it comes to culture or indeed, the black experience.

According to an independent review of the UK’s Mental Health Act in 2018, “profound inequalities” were found to exist, with black British people four times more likely to be sectioned than white people and more likely to be given psychoactive medication instead of talking therapy.

This racial disparity is distressing and unjust and until existing mental health services undergoe serious reform, nothing will change. Such changes to the current system can be achieved in the form of extra funding and re-education of healthcare professionals especially on the themes raised above.