Outrage over the Breonna Taylor verdict can negatively affect your mental health. Here's how to cope, say experts

Megan Sims
·6 min read
Protests have erupted around the country in the wake of the Breonna Taylor verdict. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Protests have erupted around the country in the wake of the Breonna Taylor verdict. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Across the country, people are reeling over the grand jury verdict in the Breonna Taylor shooting — which, after months of protests and calls for justice, charged only one officer, Brett Hankison, in relation to the March 13 killing, and with the disappointing “wanton endangerment” rather than for Taylor’s death.

The lack of accountability was yet the latest blow to Black people’s mental and emotional wellness, spurring even more protests across the country. Many took to social media to express their frustration, including celebrities Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, LeBron James and more.

TikTok influencer Jenna Nolen got emotional in a video following the Taylor verdict.

“I’m crying because I’m so upset. I’m sick to my stomach. How do three officers murder somebody and walk off scot-free?...The system is corrupt, it’s flawed and they wonder why we march. They wonder why we protest and they wonder why we’re so sick of it. No justice is ever served...y’all don’t care about us!”

Rheeda Walker, professor of psychology at the University of Houston and author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, tells Yahoo Life that the pain felt in the Black community is legitimate.

“At some point, there are no answers,” she explains. “When you are subjected continuously to the same disregard, disrespect…and there doesn’t seem to be any accountability, so much so that the same thing will continue to happen, it’s not even fair to say ‘cope with that.’”

This is not the first time that a verdict has hurt and angered the Black community, and likely won’t be the last. Here, Walker shares a few tips on how people can take care of themselves amid the stream of upsetting news.

Recognize your emotions

Walker says that people may feel a combination of anger, rage and numbness, but she encourages people to be intentional with and mindful of those emotions, rather than let them get out of hand.

“We don’t want to get bogged down into the hopelessness of the situation, because that’s what’s going to keep us from doing things that we’d have to be able to do,” she adds.

Lalah Delia, author of Vibrate Higher Daily and a wellness educator, warns that the stress caused by these devastating events can damage one’s immune system, which can be even more compounded in the midst of a pandemic.

“If we are stressed, we know that statistically, that causes illness, it causes high blood pressure, it causes stroke, heart attack,” Delia explains. “So we really wanna signal to our bodies that we may be going through a tough time, but we will take care.”

Call in “Black’

Walker suggests that stepping away from work to rest and reset your emotions — either by taking a nap if you are working from home or putting your head down on your desk or going for a walk if you’re at the office. Delia and Walker also advise talking with like-minded people during this difficult time.

Further, it may be a good idea to take a mental health day from work — an action Walker dubs “calling in Black,” a phrase that was popularized by YouTuber Evelyn from the Internets.

“If you need to...skip some meetings, then do it, because when we have to show up and put on a smiling face as if we’re not angry and hurting, that’s not fair,” she says.

Black women, in particular, should take care

According to a 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Black women are about 1.4 times more likely than white women to be killed by police.

Shemariah J Arki, founder and program director of Ellipsis Institute for Womxn of Color in the Academy, says that Black women may be taking a harder hit following the verdict.

“It’s hard to be a Black woman living in America and to see [Taylor] so full of life, and to see that snatched away,” Arki says. “And then no one’s going to be held accountable for it. Even though we’re not surprised at all, it still hurts.”

She suggests Black women connect with their ancestors.

“I believe that the only way we’re gonna make it through this time is through the connection we have to the people who were here before us… I think that that would help us with our mental health, but also with our physical health and with our spiritual health as a community.”

Delia adds that if Black women remember who they are, they can then step into their power.

You are what you eat

What you put into your body connects directly with your mental and emotional health, and while Arki advises drinking a lot of water, Delia stresses the importance of nourishing yourself with the right food, including dark leafy greens and organic fruits and grains.

“Food carries either a high vibration or a low vibration...We’re vessels, so whatever we put into us is going to create an energy field,” she says.

Focus on justice

Walker suggests that people channel their anger and disappointment into having a focused plan of action. “Sometimes just having a plan can get us out of a negative tailspin of emotions,” she says, while Delia notes that people can create think tanks and host Zoom meetings to connect with people who might have different skill sets.

Arki adds that small, everyday gestures go a long way.

“Whether that’s posting on social media, whether that’s talking to someone in your family, whether that’s reading a book to your baby,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be this big outward thing, and I think that’s what hinders people a lot from being active, because they feel like, ‘Oh, well, I’m not at the protest,’ or ‘I’m not going to the march.’ There’s a role for everyone in this work.”

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