Alexandria, VA – The following is a statement from Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health America:
“Today’s verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin comes with a wave of intense emotions that have been building for the last 11 months. While many will feel relief that justice was served, others may feel frustration at the time it took to render a verdict when the event was captured in real-time nearly a year ago.
“This past year has tested our nation, and torn people apart. Acts of violence have continued, sometimes perpetrated by law enforcement officers, other times by neighbors who have attacked neighbors. The fear and anxiety so many of us feel has been crippling, and we wonder what it will take for justice to become the norm not just in a single case, but for everyone, everywhere.
“We see this in all our work -- in the unprecedented number of people reporting anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges to us. This number grew steadily during the past year, in part because of the stress of these days.
“All of these emotions - fear, anxiety, worry, even depression - are valid responses to what has unfolded over video, on the streets, and in the courtroom since George Floyd’s tragic death last May. As we experience some or all of these emotions, we must also recognize two truths. We all feel anxiety and terror at the thought that we could die violently at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect us. But those whose lives have been marginalized by people in power often shoulder a mental health burden that is far deeper than what others face.
“‘It’s not normal to see someone get murdered by the click of a video on your phone, yet it has become the norm for our people, our Black and brown communities,’ Carlil Pittman, an organizer for A New Deal for Youth, told the Associated Press this week.
“Mr. Pittman is absolutely right. When exposed to this violence and the recent violence that has been pouring out of our media in so many parts of our nation, people of color and the people who love them feel a sense of immediacy about the trauma. People of color are forced to think of their own experiences with police, or the experiences of their families. This repeated assault on the consciousness is racial trauma. We at Mental Health America know this to be a serious threat to our nation’s mental health and public health.
“In addition to this broad racial trauma, we also recognize the profound mental health effects on those closest to this trial: Mr. Floyd’s family, the witnesses who testified, the jurors who deliberated, and the legal counsel who argued. All involved should be offered long-term, free, accessible mental health supports. They will need them.
“The sad reality is that too often these supports are difficult to access, particularly for people of color. Only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. Among the reasons for this are cost, insurance coverage, geographic inaccessibility, stigma, and a lack of providers of color. Black Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet only two percent of the country’s psychiatrists are Black.
“MHA and our affiliates are committed to addressing these barriers and to making mental health services equitable and accessible.
“We must remember that - although this may be one step forward - the end of this trial does not mean the end of all our trials. The tragic death of Mr. Floyd opened the eyes of many white Americans to the systemic racism and inequity that Black Americans have long experienced. We all cannot simply move on to the next news cycle now.
“We must give some meaning to this tragedy beyond awareness, hope, and prayers for a more equitable and just society. We must commit ourselves to action - to ensuring that all are treated kindly and with dignity and that our public policies and practices promote the health and well-being of all our nation’s people.
“We must hold ourselves and, more importantly, our leaders to the promise of equity for all, of access to the tools of health and well-being, and of the realization of life and liberty as a fundamental right.”
About Mental Health America
Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all. MHA’s work is driven by its commitment to promote mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal. Learn more at MHAnational.org.