Olivia Rakiro spent a lot of time last summer on social media and was anxious about the numerous posts about Black Lives Matter and racial injustice.
“It was weird because it was like, I felt like I should be happy that people are being aware of it and everything, and there’s part of me that did feel like that, but then at the same time it became really overwhelming,” said Rakiro, a sophomore journalism major.
Black students at Temple University are continuing to deal with the mental impact of seeing numerous posts about police brutality and racial injustice, including videos of the police attacking Black people, during the summer and are now grappling with the renewed media attention surrounding the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.
While it is necessary to pay attention to police brutality and racial injustice, the frequent exposure can take a toll on the mental health of Black people, said Sonja Peterson-Lewis, a social psychologist and an Africology and African American studies professor.
“If you’re oppressed on the basis of race, we tend to have a very strong racial collective identity, so that when something happens to say, another Latinx person, it’s like it’s happening to you, or something happens to a Black person, it’s like it happened to you,” Peterson-Lewis said.
The ability to identify with victims of police brutality influenced Rakiro’s decision to limit how much time she spent on social media, she said.
“I noticed over time seeing it on the news so much and reading so much about it was affecting me mentally in the sense I just felt like, extra anxious and sad because then it was like, all these issues related to racism and everything were being brought up so much that it was like reminding me about my own life and dealing with discrimination,” Rakiro added.
Seeing videos of police brutality can be traumatizing and lead to negative mental health outcomes because people who identify with the group being attacked experience the trauma as their own, CBS reported.
Google searches for Black Lives Matter dramatically increased last summer and searches for Chauvin have risen since the end of March, according to Google Trends.
Over time, the stress of dealing with racism builds up and damages both the physical and mental health of Black people, ProPublica reported.
Alyssa Threadgill, a freshman journalism major, noticed how seeing posts about Black Lives Matter and racial injustice affected her mental health last summer, she said.
“There’s like, almost no escaping any kind of like, postings about racial injustice, and it was, it was at a time where I kind of had to think like, ‘Okay like, maybe I need to detox,’” Threadgill said.
Many of the posts were well-intentioned and helped to raise awareness, but after a while, it began to feel like people were jumping on a trend and not actually motivated to do good, which was frustrating because racial injustice hits so close to home, Threadgill said.
“Like, that could have happened to anybody, it could have happened to my dad, it could have happened to my cousin like, it’s just the way the world works now it’s like, it was just so horrifying and shocking and I just, I think I just stood and stared at the TV just like, not even sure if it was real,” Threadgill said.
Overexposure to images of police brutality can also lead to people developing “compassion fatigue,” which is when someone becomes so emotionally drained, they have a hard time caring and become desensitized to racial injustice, Peterson-Lewis said.
Almost a year has passed since the Black Lives Matter protests last May, and Threadgill hasn’t seen a decrease in activity on her social media feed, partially due to Chauvin’s trial.
Chauvin’s trial is Minnesota’s first criminal case to be televised and livestreamed. The unprecedented level of access makes it easier for people to stay informed and allows for greater transparency, USA Today reported.
Keeping up with the trial hasn’t had the same draining impact on Threadgill’s mental health that social media does, she said.
“With social media, you just open it up and you never know what’s gonna show up,” Threadgill added. “Like, I can choose not to watch the news but with social media, I might expect to see a picture of my friends but instead I see pictures of something from the trial.”
Whenever a post about the trial comes up unexpectedly on social media, Rakiro feels unprepared to deal with the seriousness of the post, she said.
“It’s kind of like, do I really want to read about this right now?” Rakiro said.
Haajrah Gilani contributed reporting.