4 ways to support Black mental health amid images of racial violence

A young man cries during a group therapy meeting.

(CNN)For many African Americans, the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's accused killers churns up a chronic trauma: replayed footage of Black men killed by law enforcement (or those claiming to act on law enforcement's behalf).

While evidence and testimony from recent trials is distressing for most people, it is overwhelming for African Americans -- and especially excruciating for Black men who see their very humanity reflected in each case.
"Sometimes you are visualizing you," said Paul Bashea Williams, lead clinician and owner of Hearts in Mind Counseling in Maryland's Prince George and Montgomery counties. Ninety percent of his clients identify as Black.
    Among the private concerns Black men have shared with Williams are "anxiety around leaving the house" and "depression over not having control over one's life."
      With each killing of a Black person captured on screen, African Americans are fighting harder than ever to protect and prioritize their mental health.
        And Black men and women are exhausted.

        Caught between hope and hopelessness

          According to Williams, his clients are exhausted to the point of becoming "numb."
          He says this feeling has caused his clients to "lose a sense of hope -- and stop practicing what is needed to maintain self-care."
          "They are losing hope that change will come or something will shift in how we are viewed and treated," he said.
          But Williams urges his clients to push back against that exhaustion.
          "Stay connected to your thoughts and emotions around what's happening," he said. "And challenge the automatic thought that this is never going to change."
          He also offers four additional ways to support mental wellness.

          Tip 1: Acknowledge your feelings

          Take a moment to be present with yourself and to name the feelings and experiences you may be having, Williams suggests. To begin, ask yourself "what am I experiencing now?"
          The answer to that question may be fatigue, headaches, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, irritability and anxiety. Emotional and physiological responses can be helpful gauges of knowing when enough is enough.
          "If I know what is happening in my environment, I can allow myself to make shifts," he said.

          Tip 2: Create community

          A trusted support team is helpful in gently identifying changes you may not readily see in your mood or behavior. The therapist is clear that one's self-care community must be grounded in relationships they can trust.
          Helpful communities can flourish online through group texts and at socially distanced meetings.

          Tip 3: Prioritize self-care with boundaries

          In his practice, Williams helps clients identify ways to care for their mental health in their everyday lives. One way to do this individually is to take an internal inventory of moments when you historically experienced joy.
          Williams mentions that, culturally, Black people are often taught to care for others ahead of themselves while balancing the pressures that come with daily life.
          "We have to have self-advocacy. We have to prioritize ourselves," he said. "And it is not selfish."
          To begin this process, Williams suggests asking yourself, "What are the things I liked growing up?" and "What are the things I like now?"