The first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder sparked emotional, even visceral responses from many in the Black community.
“The death of George Floyd should have never happened,” said Dr. Harold Neighbors, a renowned mental health researcher at Hurdle.
The police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck has been convicted of second-degree murder. However, that conviction will not bring Floyd back to life. It is also extremely troubling that several other Black men and women have died similar traumatic deaths since Floyd struggled to tell the world “I can’t breathe” while calling out for his mother with his last breath on a Minneapolis street on May 25, 2020.
On Tuesday, one year after Floyd’s untimely and unsettling death, The Kennedy Satcher Center for Mental Health Equity at Morehouse School of Medicine, The National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Hurdle hosted a virtual symposium to discuss Black mental health.
Before George Floyd’s death, mental health was often a hushed and shunned topic in the Black community. That sentiment is an ongoing struggle after Floyd’s death, mental health advocates said.
Participants in the symposium included Dan Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, former U.S. Representative Patrick J. Kennedy, Dr. David Satcher, the 16th Surgeon General of the United States, and mental health researchers Dr. Harold Neighbors and Dr. Norman L. Day-Vines.
Neighbors and Day-Vines shared observations from their co-authored George Floyd Report, which focused on mental health and the subsequent trauma in the Black community.
“The paper was an opportunity to think about the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death and mental health,” said Day-Vines, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. “It was a call to action… There’s an effort to hold people accountable for giving back to the African-American community.”
Day-Vines added historical context, explaining that African-Americans were not previously considered to have the intellectual capacity to benefit from mental health counseling, because they were thought to be “simple, uncomplicated people.
“It wasn’t always a pleasure to write this (George Floyd) paper… because of the situation,” said Neighbors, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. “If Black lives matter then Black deaths matter as well.”
Like true health equity, mental health equity does not currently exist in the Black community, he added.
“Things like systemic and structural racism can sound a little vague to people,” Neighbors said. “Racism is based on a flawed, mythological premise.”
After America’s so-called racial reckoning, researchers said there’s a definitive need to say that it is actually a measure of strength to seek mental health counseling and resources. Panelists felt cultural humility is the centerpiece in recognizing that mental healthcare access can heal the nation after George Floyd’s death.
“We had to face this reality,” said Patrick J. Kennedy, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy. “We have a renewed insight into our illness as a nation.”
Kennedy said that although it would be difficult to get rid of racism, it is possible to get rid of discrimination with legislative policy. He added that generational trauma is real and must also be addressed, with sustainable policy change.
“We’re ready to take another major step forward when it comes to mental health care,” said Satcher, who served under President Bill Clinton as the 16th Surgeon General of the United States. “Mental health is really key when trying to understand ourselves.”
You can read Hurdle’s full Black Mental Health report at: https://hurdle.co/read-report/.