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Why Safe Spaces Are So Important for People of Color

Reading time | 4 mins

To be understood by your medical professional isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

After a three-year stint with no health insurance, I wasn’t sure how I felt about getting back into therapy.

It seemed like a difficult process with the potential to open up old wounds that I wasn’t certain I wanted to open. But I decided to give it a try and began the process of looking for a new therapist.

Everybody has different expectations from a therapist.

For me, I want somebody who’s going to make me feel comforted. I want someone with empathy. Someone who is able to be direct with me, but also gentle.

In my case, I needed my therapist to be a woman, I needed her to have a healing spirit, but most of all, I needed her to be black.

Part of the reason this is so important to me is because I know what it’s like to be a black woman searching for someone who looked like me to share my experiences and finding nobody there.

I truly believe that part of the reason I am doing so well in therapy is that many of the things that would be lost in translation (or my attempt to translate) to a non-black person are not an issue.

I don’t have to spend valuable session time playing tour guide to the black experience in order for my therapist to understand me.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m finally able to process — and begin to heal from — my trauma.

While I looked for the therapist I was hoping to find, I also made a point of finding other places — online communities and support groups — where I could talk with other people of color who had experience with mental illness.

When I started my blog, Black Girl, Lost Keys, there weren’t many black people with ADHD talking about their experiences or making themselves known publicly. I really wanted to be able to understand my condition within that cultural framework.

With my blog, I was able to create a place where I and my fellow black women with ADHD could talk it out. Today, more spaces are popping up that specifically address mental health challenges for people of color — and that’s a wonderful thing. Here’s why they’re so important.

Shared Experiences

Being in spaces where you don’t “fit in” or feel misunderstood can be incredibly isolating.

When it comes to mental health or other important issues, being in spaces that aren’t specifically designed for people of color can mean having people minimize how race and racialized experiences color the issues you’re having.

It can even mean having to explain yourself in order to be believed or accepted. It can be exhausting — and even traumatizing. When you’re in a safe space, you can just be.

One of the things I’ve noticed in running my own group is how many women come into the space and say “finally” or “thank you” because they have needed that shared experience and couldn’t find it anywhere else.

Lack of microaggressions

Sometimes people don’t understand other cultures. That lack of cultural understanding can cause them to minimize, criticize, or mock other people’s customs.

You would think that within mental health spaces this wouldn’t be an issue, given their sensitive nature, but remember: Those spaces are made up of regular people, and therefore regular people problems come in there as well.

In safe spaces for black and other people of color, there’s a cultural sensitivity that you may not find in other places, which adds another layer of safety. When people feel psychologically safe, it can be easier to ask for help or work through an issue.

Many of the women who are in my group have found their way there after having attempted to weigh in on a racial issue.

They’ve also experienced trying to explain to someone why something is racist and finding themselves shouted down or even removed from a support group.

I wish I was making this up, but it’s true — and it’s more common than you realize.

Insights and shared struggles

When you’re in a safe space as a person of color, you can feel a sense of community without having to compromise any of your needs. There’s power in someone saying to you that they understand — and knowing that they can relate.

In our group, we’re able to talk about issues that affect the black community beyond mental health. That can include items from the news or everyday experiences that other black and people of color can relate to without further explanation.

The takeaway

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to manage your mental health as a person of color. There are those who don’t feel that their race is a factor, and that’s valid. I don’t speak for all people of color, and I don’t allow them to speak for me.

But for me, and for many of the people I’ve come across in this journey, sometimes you just need a space where you can feel fully understood. For those of us who need that, safe spaces can be extremely nurturing as part of our mental health journey.

For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

DEPR-US-NP-00067 JUNE 2019