Racial trauma refers to the mental and emotional stress caused by racist experiences and discrimination. Any BIPOC individual who has experienced a racist event themselves or seen one secondhand is vulnerable to racial trauma.

Racism itself can cause a variety of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Racial trauma is a more intense effect of racist experiences. With the ever-present social media, viral videos, and online news surrounding American racism and white supremacist ideals, BIPOC groups might have difficulty escaping racism, microaggressions, triggers, and stressors.

Symptoms of racial trauma

Racial trauma can present much like post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Anger, distress, or irritability
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Hypervigilance
  • Avoidance
  • Low self-esteem
  • Panic attacks
  • Bodily reactions: chest pain, increased heart rate, insomnia, or hyperventilation

Some or all of these symptoms might be present. Some may come and go or develop more strongly over time. When racial trauma goes unaddressed, it can cause adverse health effects over time, such increased risks of chronic illnesses.

Addressing trauma in the workplace as an employer

How can we prioritize BIPOC mental health in the workplace? For employers, this means allowing for flexibility. When employers deny or ignore racism, that can be re-traumatizing for BIPOC employees. Companies must make an effort to understand what racial trauma can look like for their employees.

Openly advocating for BIPOC employees and knowing the symptoms of trauma is the first step toward making an inclusive workplace. Flexible policies should be put into place, such as allowing remote working, encouraging employees to reach out, lifting and prioritizing BIPOC voices in the workplace, and company-wide training on spotting and curbing microaggressions and overtly hostile interactions. Ensure your company covers mental healthcare, particularly through organizations that are specifically trained to address racial trauma.

Addressing trauma in the workplace as an employee

For BIPOC employees, this means understanding your stressors and triggers. Are you experiencing microaggressions? Maybe this looks like negative comments about your hair or the way you dress. Perhaps your boss is always criticize you more than your White coworkers, despite you putting in the same or more effort than them. This could also be others constantly pressing you about racial issues, such as police brutality or politics. You might also be asked to speak for your entire race rather than others recognizing your unique experiences.

Interactions like these can be triggering, especially with race and trauma at the forefront of American conversations right now. When videos of police brutality and racial violence go viral, this can add stress to your already tense workplace interactions.

Exercise your rights

You should consider whether it would be possible to work remotely and limit face-to-face time with coworkers and bosses. Take advantage of your company’s resource groups for BIPOC employees. Don’t be afraid to involve HR as a mediator in your conversations. Finding a confidant can help you feel less alone. You might also approach them with ideas for further supporting BIPOC employees such as yourself.

How to find support

There are a number of organizations and community support groups for victims of racial trauma. These targeted therapies have been created to address the experiences of different cultures and marginalized individuals. It might be a good idea to seek one-on-one therapy with a counselor who specializes in racial trauma. You might also consider linking with your BIPOC coworkers and advocating for targeted support groups and mental health coverage within your company.

To find out more about understanding and addressing racial trauma for BIPOC employees in the workplace, please reach out to us for more resources.