Implicit Bias in the Black Lives Matter Movement and Mental Health

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Implicit bias is a subtle form of discrimination that an individual usually isn’t aware of. While it may seem harmless since it’s unconscious, it can actually have serious consequences. When it comes to the Black Lives Matter Movement, the implicit biases are everywhere. When telling the stories of the victims of police brutality, these descriptions are often accompanied with a mugshot or another negative image of the victim. This is meant to purposely create a “horns effect”, making a reader feel negatively towards the victim and feel that the killing was justified. There is implicit bias present even in how people approach the phrase “Black Lives Matter”. An implicit bias towards black people can make individuals compelled to say that “All lives matter”, rather than understanding the phrase doesn’t mean that only black lives matter.

Implicit biases can also drastically affect our mental health. Studies show that at least two-thirds of health providers hold some form of implicit bias against marginalized groups”. Mental health services are usually provided on a one-on-one basis, so the opinion of one person, affected by implicit bias, can determine whether a person gets proper care or not. It can stop providers from referring patients to higher levels of care and acting upon evidence-based studies to personalize treatment. “A recent study used audio recordings of potential psychotherapy clients to show that middle-class white women are far more likely than working-class black men to get a call back when requesting an appointment”.

Implicit bias in mental health providers can affect how they perceive certain behaviors in terms of mental illness. “Consider, for example, a black man who has grown up in a society where men and boys of color are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. His vigilance in everyday life might be perceived as a natural consequence of racial profiling by one provider, whereas that same behavior might be interpreted as paranoia related to schizophrenia by another.” Race must be taken into account for mental health as our behaviors are shaped by our experiences and environment, but it shouldn’t hinder a person from getting proper care. In fact, “providers of mental health services are more likely to under diagnose affective (mood) disorders and over diagnose psychotic disorders among patients from marginalized groups”. These negative effects can result in mistrust of the medical system by members of marginalized groups, which, combined with the still-present stigma against mental illness can have drastic effects on an individual’s and community’s health. In an emergency situation where a provider must take quick decisions, implicit bias can cause mistreatment during a mental health crisis, reading someone as dangerous rather than as frustrated.

All of us have implicit biases that affect marginalized groups, and there are many ways that we can eliminate them. You can do this by having contact with the people you hold biases for. Through this, you’ll learn that certain groups of people have more than a single story to them. You can lead education efforts within your community, make people aware of those who defy stereotypes, and just consider the perspective of others in different situations. It takes all of us.

There are many mental health resources.

“BEAM’s mission is to remove the barriers that Black people experience getting access to or staying connected with emotional health care and healing through organizing, education, training, grantmaking and advocacy.”

Black Mental Wellness provides a range of services related to mental health and wellness to you and/or your organization including consultations; presentations, workshops, and training for corporations and community agencies; culturally inclusive training and content/curriculum development for company programs and retreats; and speaking engagements.


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