The Toxic Stress of Racism


Posted By: Envision2bWell, Inc

The Toxic Stress of Racism

The Toxic Stress of Racism

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month


July is Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a campaign created to shed light on the unique struggles related to mental illness faced by underrepresented groups across America. A 2015 review of hundreds of studies between 1983 and 2013 confirms that the experience of racism is consistently associated with increased mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Mental health issues affect so many different areas of a person’s life – from their ability to experience joy, to their ability to create meaningful relationships, to their ability to hold a job, to their ability even to survive.

On May 29th, 2020, the CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization, released a statement in response to recent racially motivated incidents across the United States corrlelating the toxic stress of racism to its impact on mental health. It began with the following:

“The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real and cannot be ignored. The disparity in access to mental health care in communities of color cannot be ignored. The inequality and lack of cultural competency in mental health treatment cannot be ignored.” - Daniel H. Gillison Jr.

When one thinks about the correlation between racism and mental health, it’s normal to think first of the more monumental racial traumas such as the killing of George Floyd. But the everyday racism that BIPOC face is equally toxic to their mental and physical health.

To help people better understand the effects of racism on mental and physical health, NAMI linked readers to a 2014 You Tube video of a talk given by David Williams of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health titled, Social and Behavorial Determinants of Toxic Stress. Below are some highlights from the talk, click here to view it in its entirety. 

Highlights from Social and Behavorial Determinants of Toxic Stress

By David Williams, Harvaard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


In this first clip, David Williams provides context about the racial disparities that exist in health using excess deaths – the number of people in a certain population who would not otherwise have died if these disparities did not exist.



Here Williams discusses the socio-economic differences that factor into racial disparities in health and how not much has changed since 1978.



In this clip, Williams illustrates the effects of racism outside of socio-economic factors and shows how very real the effects of racism are on health outcomes.



Here Williams discusses how deeply embedded racism is in American society.



In this final clip, Williams sheds light on the negative health outcomes resulting from everyday racism.



Minority Mental Health Awareness is hugely important because racial disparities in health and mental health desperately need to be addressed and changed. The first step is always awareness. The more people that are educated to understand the very real consequences of racial disparities, the better chance we have of actually changing them.

We encourage you to visit the NAMI website to learn more, particularly this page that lists a number of valuable resources, including Black mental health resources.

At Envision2bWell, we have always been committed to doing our part to address racial disparities in health and well-being. With our workplace wellness solution, we use the lens of social determinants of health to help organizations personalize their employee wellness program to meet the needs of all of their employees. The experience of racism is a social determinant of health, as well as other factors such as neighborhood, access to transportation, environmental factors, economic stability and more. To learn more about how Envision2bWell is addressing social determinants of health through our employee wellness solution and KSAA Assessment, download our resource paper here




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