The Connection between Social Justice and Mental Health
Everyone is susceptible to various forms of stress that have the potential to strain a person’s mental and physical health. However, there are some forms of stress that are disproportionately experienced by people of color, leading to premature aging and illness. According to Dr. David Williams, a Professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health, racial discrimination is “an important type of psychological stressor that can lead to adverse changes in health status and altered behavioral patterns that increase health risks” (Why Discrimination is a Health Issue, Culture of Health Blog, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, May 26, 2021: https://www.rwjf.org/en/blog/2017/10/discrimination-is-a-health-issue.html).
Williams’ research reveals that African Americans experience higher rates of mortality despite access to higher education and healthier communities. Williams suggests this is because racial discrimination exposes people of color to persistent daily stress that exceed the average person’s coping mechanisms and leads to health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer.
Many people limit their understanding of discrimination to highly visible inequities in the criminal justice system such as the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But Williams points out that “not all discrimination is conscious, intentional or personal.” Given the history of American slavery, discrimination on the basis of race has been embedded in our culture, and although progress toward racial equality has been made, the lingering effects of this legacy can have a persistent, yet subtle, impact. It can be reflected in institutional policies such as voting regulations, mortgage lending, zoning, educational resources, job security and hiring practices.
To effectively address this issue, it is important to identify the structures, policies and practices that create an environment where people of color, and other underrepresented groups such like as the LGBTQ community, feel excluded, defensive, and on the outside of the system. To achieve a healthy world for all, it is necessary to examine the conditions that are creating this type of psychological stress, and the human health impacts of the resulting negative emotions, emotions such as fear, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness.
Given that a healthy mental outlook is vital to the wellbeing of all people, the psychological impact of discrimination warrants attention. In other words, the concept of Social Justice—the way in which fairness manifests in society—has significant implications for the mental health of minority populations. Social Justice is one of the pillars of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adopted in 2012 at the Conference on Sustainable Development at Rio de Janeiro, the UNSDGs aim to bring peace and prosperity to people worldwide by 2030 by partnering with governments, non-governmental, and non-profit organizations in support 17 specific goals to better humanity and the planet. The United Nations acknowledges that these 17 goals are interwoven, and that the success of its mission depends on achieving progress in all categories. The mission of the Global Preservation Society is to support the SDGs of the United Nations.
If we are to attain a happier healthier world, we must prioritize social justice and resolve the issue of inequality on a global scale. That means taking a hard look at the fabric of our nation, at our history as well as our present circumstances, untangle the psychology of our social norms, and share this knowledge with other nations. We’ve come a long way since 1863, but there is plenty of road ahead. With that journey in mind, and in honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, the Global Preservation Society awards the July Grant to The Loveland Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing mental health resources to African American women and girls.