WASHINGTON, D.C. — The widely circulated videos of police brutality on television and social media trigger depression and other post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in young people of color, according to new research published today by Justice + Joy National Collaborative, a gender and racial justice advocacy organization. The report, Power In Our Truths: Girls & Gender-Expansive Young People of Color Speak Truth About How Videos of Police Brutality Detrimentally Affect Their Mental Health, provides insights into how often young people of color were exposed to violent videos, their feelings when viewing the content, and their coping strategies to protect their mental health.
From George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to Ma’Khia Bryant and Elijah McClain, social media has been a critical tool for raising awareness about instances of police brutality and holding law enforcement accountable; however, for Gen Z young people of color, the virality of violent videos has come at a high cost – their mental health. When asked how viewing these videos made them feel, anger, vulnerability, fear, and sadness were the most common emotions. A 23-year-old participant from Mississippi shared, “Sometimes it’s an unexplainable anger and wave of adrenaline rushing through me because I wasn’t able to be there or couldn’t stop this from happening. These situations make me feel queasy and uneasy because, in the blink of an eye, things just go wrong without any remorse from the very people sworn in to serve and protect its citizens!”
Major findings from the report include:
(91%) of participants saw videos of police brutality ‘most days’ or ‘sometimes’.
The most common emotions after viewing the videos were anger/frustration (80.2%), sadness/grief (76.9%), and fear (59.5%).
80% of young people stated they take breaks from social media or watching, reading, or listening to news stories after encountering police brutality content.
“This research unequivocally demonstrates the consequences of routine exposure to police violence on the mental health of girls and gender-expansive young people of color,” said Dr. Jamelia N. Harris, Senior Director of Collaborative Research and Innovative Thought at Justice + Joy. “For far too long, their lived experiences have been largely invisible within the anti-police brutality discourse and movement. As we grapple with the rising rates of suicide and mental health issues, particularly among Black girls and women, it is essential we take into account and address the crisis of police violence as contributing factors to poor mental health outcomes.”
Despite the harmful impact police brutality videos have on their mental health, girls and gender-expansive young people of color are proactively creating coping strategies to protect their well-being. The research identified five common self-care themes, including:
- Psychological Self-Care like reading, disconnecting from social media, and journaling
- Spiritual Self-Care like meditation, prayer, and listening to music
- Relationship Self-Care talking to friends, having conversations with others, and being in family/community.
- Physical Self-Care like exercise, walking, or yoga.
- Emotional Self-Care like watching TV shows, arts & crafts, and crochet.
“I believe that these rich descriptions of the emotional ramifications of viewing police brutality captured on video should sound the alarm. Girls and gender-expansive young people of color identified a number of beneficial coping strategies, but we need to do more to protect their mental health and wellbeing,” added Lauren C. Mims, Assistant Professor of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt.
About Justice + Joy
Justice and Joy National Collaborative (Justice + Joy) is an intergenerational, gender, and racial justice advocacy and organizing nonprofit advancing social, economic, and political equity with and for girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color. Our goals are to achieve collective power to advance justice, establish affirming social narratives, and build ecosystems of support. We envision a world where all girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color can achieve their potential and live unapologetically liberated lives without fear of violence or injustice. www.justiceandjoynatl.org.
About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Located in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media, and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School’s mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit steinhardt.nyu.edu.
About Power In Our Truths
Power in Our Truths is a report series covering police violence, mental health, the impact of COVID-19, policy action, and solutions. In 2020, Justice + Joy held focus groups with over 400 girls and gender-expansive young people of color. Participating states include Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, D.C. The Power in Our Truth report series builds off these conversations through a research survey that included responses from 121 participants. Read more about the Power in Our Truth report series here. The Police Violence brief can be read here.