Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh-American man, was walking down a New York City street one morning in 2013, minding his own business. Suddenly, a group of men came out of nowhere, yelling at him, calling him “Osama” and “terrorist.” The harassment did not end there. The group of young men punched Dr. Singh repeatedly in the face, ultimately breaking his jaw. Over the next few weeks, Dr. Singh reached out to the mental health services at his university but did not receive the support or attention he needed. He found these services ill-suited for his needs, given that they were geared towards people with more severe mental illnesses.
Over the next few months, Dr. Singh’s attack got significant media attention, and before long, his inbox began piling up with messages from people whose relatives or friends had experienced hate crimes of a similar nature. They were looking for comfort, and most of all, support. Four years later, Dr. Singh still receives these messages. Over time, through reading these countless emails, Dr. Singh has slowly realized that although there is a growing number of people experiencing hate crimes due to the recent administration changes, there is a significant lack of resources tailored specifically to these individuals.
In the recent months, there have been increasing levels of distress among individuals targeted by President Trump’s campaign, specifically Muslim, LGBTQ, and Latino Americans. Muslim Americans, in particular, have been going through a rough time in recent years. They have dealt with the aftermath of 9/11, the 2015 Paris attacks, and Trump’s election, inauguration, and subsequent Muslim ban. The two major surges in anti-Muslim hate crimes have occurred directly after 9/11, and now, directly after Trump’s election. According to the Family and Youth Institute, which studies the mental health needs of American Muslims, there have been increased instances of anxiety and depression since Trump’s campaign began. There has also been an increase of Muslims seeking therapy and treatment, which is extremely significant because mental health is often stigmatized in Muslim communities. The fact that people are still seeking help, even in the face of this stigma, is proof that there is something seriously wrong.
Although Muslims, in particular, are experiencing increased aggression, there has also been a recent rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals, African American individuals, and individuals of Latino descent. In addition, people are becoming less specific with their hatred and instead extending their bigotry and prejudice to encompass all American minorities. Just over two months ago, the Birmingham Islamic Society received an email directed towards all African Americans, Latino individuals, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. The message was simple: “run or die.”
Hate crimes such as these have serious psychological consequences. In the short term, hate crimes can lead to fear and paranoia in the victim. However, over time, this can become a more serious problem. The victim can experience post-traumatic stress and is more likely to develop anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Hate crimes are often deeply destabilizing to the very core of an individual, which is why they have such serious ramifications.
If victims of these crimes are not supported, the trauma from their attack often manifests into a more serious form of depression. Resources need to be established so that victims of hate crimes can receive more solid support in order to prevent their mental health from deteriorating once they or someone they know gets attacked.
One type of resource that has proven to be valuable in the past is a support group for victims of hate crimes. Staff at a YMCA in western Michigan established a weekly therapy group for individuals who were not only direct victims of hate crimes but knew someone who experienced a hate crime. This group also supported people who felt victimized by the policies of the recent administration.
Programs like this are extremely effective but are currently few and far between. People like Dr. Singh are working to bridge this gap. Dr. Singh, along with Dr. Sameera Ahmad, is working with the Council on American-Islamic relations in order to develop more training programs and support groups for Muslims dealing with hateful rhetoric. This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully, in the future, more programs like this will be created and implemented for all minorities experiencing hate crimes.
Latvian Centre for Human Rights. (2016). Psychological Effects of Hate Crime. Retrieved from http://cilvektiesibas.org.lv/site/attachments/30/01/2012/Naida_noziegums_ENG_cietusajiem_Internetam.pdf
The New York Times. (2017, April 17). When Hate Leads to Depression. The New York Times.
The New York Times. (2017, April 30). Spread of Hate Crimes Has Lawmakers Seeking Harsher Penalties. The New York Times.
Pew Research Center. (2017). Anti-Muslim assaults reach 9/11-era levels, FBI data show | Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/21/anti-muslim-assaults-reach-911-era-levels-fbi-data-show/