Though the first Diversity Dialogue for the year, held Monday in Lowell Lecture Hall, carried the provocative title “Mental Health and Ethnicity,” the discussion spoke to everyone who has ever felt alone in a struggle with depression or other mental health issues — or even just in coping with modern society.
“You don’t have to be a person of color to be invalidated,” said Tracy Robinson-Wood, a professor in Northeastern’s Department of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology.
Kristin Lee, a clinical social worker and an associate teaching professor at Northeastern, cited some troubling trends that indicate a “global mental health crisis,” including high rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety, and she encouraged attendees to consider social context and “the social conditions that are bearing down on us.”
Macroaggressions may be easy to see, she said, but for many people, microaggressions hurt, too. Defined by Harvard psychiatrists as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color,” microaggressions contribute to an onslaught of injuries to the psyche that may seem unrelenting and can result in everything from depression, fatigue, and anger to physical ailments such as chronic infections, thyroid problems, and high blood pressure.
“Often, environments or people who are microaggressing are so subtle,” said Robinson-Wood, “steeped within … the dominant values in our culture of capitalism [and] patriarchy.”
Lee gave the example of the ink-blot Rorschach test — considered a pseudoscience by many but still being used today. In 1921, she said, the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach got the “notion that he could use this as a tool for diagnosis. But who got to decide? If he sees a cat in that picture, who got to decide if you see a dog, you’re messed up?” It’s a classic example, she said, of the “dominant group setting the precedent.”