Racism, Xenophobia, and Mental Health
What, Exactly is Real “Mental Health and Wellness?”
An estimated 40 million U.S. adults and children have been affected by mental illness in some significant way.
Mental health disorders are widespread psychological conditions that can leave people feeling emotionally and physically decimated.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the most common mental disorders in the United States are anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders are feelings of worry and fearfulness that can last for months at a time. Anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social phobias.
Severe anxiety can also create an omnipresent environment of fear, distrust, and uncontrollable anger in the lives of the afflicted individuals.
About eighteen (18) percent of American adults struggle with anxiety disorders every year. Twenty-eight (28) percent of Americans suffer anxiety attacks throughout a lifetime (National Institute of Mental Health, 2005).
The Roots of Mental Illness
As an academically trained social scientist with acute knowledge of mental health issues, I can see the connections between extreme hate and mental illness.
Like every other person who must try to survive the fast-break pace of modern American culture — stress, anxiety, and the social burden to be “a success” can make me feel overwhelmed at times.
Economic pressure, social commitments, family responsibilities, and the struggle to survive can trigger the body’s stress response to reach far higher levels and persist for longer than is healthy for any of us.
The competition to survive and the fight for natural resources, material goods, and social status creates such conflict among ethnic groups that racism and xenophobia can seem normal.
In the current culturally charged and politically divisive American social climate, extreme nationalism and xenophobia blur truth and reason. The subjective ethnic, cultural, and religious lines that have traditionally separated groups widen, bringing our society closer to conflict.
Some psychiatric and psychological theorists assert that extreme racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance may be a form of mental illness. However, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has never recognized extreme hate as a mental health problem.
The APA rejected an effort to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder fifty (50) years ago. The APA reasoned that so many Americans are racist that the mindset is a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.
My Mental Health Story
My mother raised me as an orthodox Muslim in America.
The perception of an American society dominated by white racism and privilege consumed the Black people from my Islamic community.
They viewed non-Muslims and white people as culturally inferior and fundamentally different in every way. The adult leaders of the community questioned the basic humanity of white people.
Because of their interactions with Arab-Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, they also adopted Palestinian antipathies toward Jewish people and the state of Israel.
I always thought of myself as different from the people in my Muslim community when I was young. Yet, deep in my psyche, I also felt trapped by circumstance and what American society had to offer me as an African American.
In short, those experiences made me hate myself and desire to be anything but Muslim and a part of the African American community.
I was lucky to escape that environment, and I became a conservative as a young adult. But, unfortunately, I was a supporter of Donald Trump and “Trumpism” until 2017.
The mass gathering of Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, August 18th, 2017, signaled my need to turn away from the “MAGA” agenda.
Many Americans like me watched the national news media in disgust in August 2017 as the racist rally- the largest of its kind in over ten (10) years — led to stunning violence.
Heather Heyer, a Charlottesville legal assistant, was killed, and nineteen other individuals were injured when 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields Jr. drove his vehicle into a group of counter-protesters at the white nationalist gathering.
A police helicopter also crashed while flying to monitor the rally from the air, killing two state troopers.
In 2006, I was diagnosed with severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and drug-induced psychosis. Unfortunately, I attempted to “self-medicate” my mental illness with alcohol and drugs before my mental health diagnosis. This behavior only served to exacerbate my mental health issues.
Since my diagnosis, I have mitigated or cured my mental health issues via creative arts, writing, and philosophical study. I have also spent time practicing yoga, martial arts, and modern dance.
Surviving social environments that have magnified anxiety and stress means that it is essential that I use my ability to engage in rational thought to navigate the world safely.
I am by no means an expert — or even highly adept at yoga and the martial arts. But I have taken what I have learned over the years from yoga and martial arts to make them an integral part of my healing process.
Yoga originated in India. Martial arts as we know it originated in East Asia.
Thus, anti-racism and fighting antisemitism are essential in helping Americans deal with the mental health crises in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.