In my last installment on multiracial mental health, I described some of the most common experiences of multiracial, Mixed, biracial, bicultural, or multiple heritage people, including a historical perspective. That first article provided the context around multiracial lived experiences and what being multiracial means for one’s well-being. Below, I discuss inner multiracial experiences and what healing looks like in the Mixed community.
Multiracial Mental Health: What does it mean for us?
Compared to monoracial peers, multiracial or Mixed youth face poorer mental health and reduced coping resources, like not having peers who look like you or who understand your experience. Multiracial people are likely to not have grown up around many people with the same mix–and even then, that’s not a determinant of how you look or your racial identity.
National studies of biracial Asian Americans and biracial Latine folks show that multiracial people are twice as likely to struggle with mental health and generally experience greater levels of distress in life. These studies also show that biracial folks may feel more like other multiracial people, rather than identifying with monoracial peers. All in all, multiracial Americans face greater risk factors without necessarily the most helpful coping strategies. The result is that Mixed folks end up with struggles we’re not all equipped to face.
We already know that racial, cultural, gender, and sexual minority groups are challenged, mental health-wise, in the face of (1) a profession (mental health) that has not always been kind to those it was chartered to help. Add to that (2) the cultural stigmas around mental health, (3) the impact of lifelong discrimination, (4) limited access to relevant information, and (5) limited therapists who have done the work to be able to help, and minoritized groups are disadvantaged when it comes to mental health care. The issues, dilemmas, and isolation of multiracial identity combine with the above and result in a lot of unmet needs, and yes, poorer outcomes.
Inner life for a biracial person
Multiracial folks, in particular, often face conflicts while growing up around embracing identity versus fitting in. For some, not fully identifying with one racial or cultural group can leave us wondering where we belong, if not with one of those monoracial groups. Realizing that your life experiences are different from those of your friends or schoolmates can be scary, given that as human beings we rely on connection and belonging to survive.
Multiracial youth often face discrimination and microaggressions even within the family, where you can be “too much” of something or “not enough.” Recall the family gathering at which you weren’t treated the same as your monoracial siblings or cousins? Multiracial people can also find themselves subjected to hearing slurs or inappropriate jokes when they are presumed to be one race. This hurts you, a lot. So does not being able to properly self-identify in the “race box” on demographic forms.
Unique implications for some multiracial folks
For some multiracial folks, who may be lighter-skinned than their family members or White-passing in some settings, you may experience erasure and invisibility. It may be hard to be seen and acknowledged for your lifelong experiences and culture. And there is also the responsibility of privilege to be aware of and to channel for good.
Some multiracial folks also have the experience of growing up with one or more immigrant parents. Immigration itself is challenging and complicated, comingled with social inequality and cultural differences, and these hardships impact countless future generations. This family history can have a strong impact on a child’s experience of their future challenges and successes. With those hardships compounded over time, these folks can grow up with high expectations at all times, only developing an awareness of their anxiety and sense of responsibility later on.
Or, for other offspring of immigrants, a child with a parent learning English may find themself in the role of interpreter, which is especially concerning when it comes to expecting them to interpret complex adult issues. That’s despite that being bilingual comes with many cognitive and personal benefits.
Mental health implications for Mixed-race Americans
Whatever your generational immigration status, for most children and adolescents, being the only, being unique, or being “interesting” is isolating and lonely, even within our families, where we can still look and feel different from everyone else. But the alternative, fitting in, means erasing, suppressing, or shrinking parts of our authentic selves. Later in life, we might find ourselves still distanced from our sense of our “true self” – a true self that was never seen. It’s when we can really be seen and validated for all of who we are, such as in affirming therapy, a community group, or even a meme, that we can start to fully embrace ourselves and let go of the parts of ourselves that were created for the purpose of trying to fit in.
Research has shown that profound growth can come from incorporating and accepting aspects of two distinct racial or cultural backgrounds into your individual identity. What’s more, this integration actually leads to improved mental health, compared to our monocultural or monoracial peers. Integrating positive aspects from various cultural backgrounds leads to a more well-rounded personal identity. At Panorama Therapy, I’m determined to make that so for more of us.
Keys to Contentment: Multiracial and mentally healthy
As multiracial folks, we have learned how to thrive even in the face of all of these factors. Navigating these challenges from the time we are born means that we are adaptable, sharp, creative, often sensitive to others. We are resilient; we are flexible, able to adapt to our circumstances; and we don’t feel so defined or encumbered by all the boxes. We’re more likely to understand intuitively that race is a social construct and not a biological fact, which also helps us to understand ourselves better, outside the limitations of a monoracial world.
Yet only 60% of multiracial adults say they’re proud of their background. Given what we experience as Mixed-race people, it can be hard to feel grateful. It’s likely that we’ve faced some of the above challenges, but importantly, no matter what we’ve gone through, we can heal today, in the present, through finding true affirmation that comes from within and from seeing that affirmation mirrored and witnessed in connection.
Okay, how are we going to do that?
As people of mixed racial identities, we can thrive when we are validated and affirmed by ourselves first and by others second, growing into our authentic selves without becoming isolated. As we are finding our way through day-to-day life, we can seek ways to discover and then elevate our expression of our true selves, finally visible and finally understood. Stop here and consider a few simple ways you could affirm yourself:
- Call an elder relative
- Read a Wikipedia article about a traditional holiday you’ve heard of
- Visit the local Mexican carneceria, stop by the Asian market for mooncakes, or cook an old favorite for dinner
- Create artwork in the style of your past generations
- Download Duolingo for your grandparents’ language just for fun
- Listen to or record yourself in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes called the “Black National Anthem”
- Join a Facebook group and let yourself resonate with a meme
- Write and voice some affirmations styled after the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “I Am — Somebody”
- Visit a history museum dedicated to honoring legacies from your cultures of origin
- Look at old pictures or learn more about your family line
- Read about the history of interracial romance for your particular lineage
- Learn about how your parents got together
- Watch media from your homelands or cultures of origin
- Listen to an audiobook related to the Mixed-race experience
Finding people (even just one person) with whom we can express ourselves and be witnessed is profound. Expanding to a community that embraces shared values and that can let you be yourself will broaden your capacities to access support and connection. Once we’ve resolved the pressures to fit in, we can truly engage with being seen and validated for who we are.
Seeking out relationships with diverse friends, loved ones, and a broader community are all ways to find support and connection. How much support we get organically from family or local community can vary a lot. Online communities can be a great way to connect with others who get your experience, like a Facebook group for folks of your heritage (do you identify as Blasian? Afro-Latina? Biracial? Hapa? Third Culture Kid? Search for it!) or the 10-week anti-racism discussion group.
As a therapist, I often work with multiracial clients to grow in their self-compassion, self-kindness, or self-love. Multiracial, biracial, and Mixed folks can facilitate their healing process when they can provide themselves the safe container of self-love to be affirmed, validated, and celebrated from within. That’s what’s truly transformative. Therapy can also provide that safe container, especially when you need help with building up your skills around the practice of self-compassion or you need a space to really dialogue about identity.
Multiracial and Striving for Mental Health: What if I need help with validating or affirming myself with self-compassion?
When looking for mental health treatment, you’ll want to be able to talk to someone who understands your specific experiences and concerns. Finding a therapist who also identifies as multiracial can be deeply healing. Not having to explain, justify, or defend your realities and experiences frees you up to be seen more fully for who you really are: a witnessing that is at the root of transformation. We all need to be validated in our feelings and experiences, and it can help to speak with someone who understands the struggles and every other part of life first-hand.
You are not alone. There are 33.8 million of us out there navigating life as multiracial Americans, and discovering who we are is part of our life’s work and our inner healing. If you find yourself looking for support or resources on your Mixed journey, feel free to reach out to continue the conversation.