Taking The Conversation To Work: Let’s Talk About Black Mental Health
Written by Dionne Mahaffey, PsyD, LPC, NCC
When we talk about mental health, we can’t ignore the places where we spend most of our time—our workplaces. In the spirit of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s bring into focus the unique hurdles Black workers face every day. These challenges, deep-seated within our society, significantly impact mental health. Today’s fast-paced work culture adds to these struggles.
Just look at the Twitter chat kicked off last month by Tryfe Tejada. He pointed out a simple but powerful truth: making friends at work and hanging out with colleagues outside the office isn’t the same experience for everyone. For Black people, it can often be a very different story. His tweet has been viewed approximately 650,000 times, and the discussions that ensued in response to this tweet highlighted a common theme among Black professionals: the mental toll of enduring racial microaggressions and systemic racism in the workplace.
I realized this. But most yt people make friends at work and are generally very social with coworkers outside of the office. This, of course, is VERY different for Black people.
In many workplaces, Black employees deal with the added stress of feeling alone and facing subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle, racial bias every day. This daily navigation through a web of racism and prejudice takes a heavy toll on their mental health. It’s like walking on eggshells, fearing that any misstep could be used against them, leading to an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety.
The recent policy shake-ups, like doing away with affirmative action and attacks on diversity efforts, have made things worse. These changes have sent a chilling reminder to Black employees—their experiences and challenges do not matter as much to those holding power.
Here’s the thing: the pandemic and the shift to work-from-home provided some relief for many Black workers. Away from the direct racial tensions and office politics, they found a safer space to be themselves. But with talk of returning to the office, the thought of stepping back into potentially hostile work environments is causing a lot of worry.
Research from Slack Technologies found that only 3% of Black professional workers were accepting of returning to the office full-time, compared to 21% of white professionals.
“We all know the workplace can be stressful for Black people. These stresses not only impact mental health but can lead to chronic illness or exacerbate existing conditions that already plague the Black community like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease,” said Dr. Brandon Gillespie, a therapist and media professional.
This Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s crucial to shine a light on the racial struggles Black professionals deal with regularly. These aren’t one-off incidents. They’re part of a bigger systemic problem that we need to tackle head-on.
Dr. Gillespie continued, “Several of my clients have quit their jobs to start their own businesses because of their toxic workplaces. People are now moving away from places that cause them stress and pain.”
To truly impact Black mental health, organizations need to foster an environment that actively combats microaggressions and discrimination, promotes understanding, diversity, and provides support for mental health.
“It’s more than just improving diversity numbers—it’s about breaking down the barriers of systemic racism and creating a culture of respect and equality,” added Timeka Muhammad, EDs, LPC-S, founder of The Courage to Cope Counseling and Wellness in Atlanta.
“Workplace racism and stress cause trauma, depression, and many other mental health concerns,” Muhammad concluded.
As we celebrate Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a wake-up call for all of us. Companies need to prioritize mental health, take a hard look at these systemic issues, and foster a culture that genuinely supports everyone in their organization. Because when it comes to mental health, every conversation, every action, matters.