Mental Health and the Zimmerman Verdict

Folks have been feeling and communicating strong emotions over the Zimmerman verdict. Here are some tips that I would offer as a counselor, in terms of interpreting our feelings.

How “should” I feel?

First, I like to shoot down the cliche’ that plagues mental health: “how does that make you feel?” – the question itself takes control from the individual and places it on the world, even though two people can feel differently about the same thing. A better question that I like to ask is simply, “how do you feel about that?” So now we can talk about how we feel, and not worry so much about how we should feel. Shoulds are words that control and they create a mismatch between where we are and where other people want us to be- what’s neglected is where we want ourselves to be. So if you feel like you should feel a certain way about the trial verdict, ask yourself what you feel instead.

Is anger right for me?

I have been told that I should feel angry. Anger isn’t for everyone, however, and that is good. Imagine if we all reacted to things with anger? That could be stressful. On the other hand, anger isn’t bad either- it stirs us to make changes at times. We must remember, however, that to expect the world to adjust to me is irrational. To enact change through collective efforts; that is rational. Anger isn’t the only way for us to respond to things.


First off, if you feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else, contact your physician or call 911. That might sound canned, but it needs to be said. It is natural to feel some sadness about what’s gone on. It is not natural to hurt yourself or others over it. Celebrity John Legend tweeted about the Zimmerman verdict, “my heart hurts.” Find someone trusted to talk to, if you’re feeling sad.


People are crying about this- and that’s a good thing. Expressing sadness is a normal part of life- people are venting, protesting, debating. They’re processing how they experience this and future incidents and constructing and reconstructing their views of the world.

If you’re not feeling it, that’s all right.

Not everyone feels urgent about everything, and all this online activism can have a dampening effect on our awareness of the things that we can change. A friend of mine reminded me last night that thousands of cases with which the public likely would disagree, go through the courts every day. Why do we focus on one? Because we all can see this one? Did we actually see it? I feel perspective when I think about the “little” miscarriages of justice I’ve witnessed. I say “little” but they’re huge to the people involved. Finding a cause to work on in my “little” world is helpful. The civil rights movement, for example, was a series of “little” worlds making big changes through collective efforts.


Empathy, the understanding or perception of another’s subjective experience, is incredibly useful right now. To verbalize how someone else must feel is a skill that bridges gaps. It is the first tool in a counselor’s toolbox, but it works wonders in any relationship. When strong perspectives like family, rights, racial ethnic identity, societal norms, and freedom come into play, empathy might be the only thing that facilitates communication. To be able to disagree while accepting the other person and his/her feelings as valid, is to approach resolution and progress. You don’t even have to feel those feelings yourself, to feel empathy for others.

Self Care

Take a deep breath and consider whether you want to discuss the Zimmerman verdict with others. There are plenty of trolls and well-meaning souls too who all want to talk about the trial. If you’re feeling distracted from activities of daily living like work, school, sleep, etc. as a result of having those discussions, it might be a good time to clear your mind for a while. Don’t forget to enjoy a healthy meal, take a nice long walk, or play with the dog.

Ask yourself “what do I want out of this conversation?” Does the outcome depend on how other people experience it, or how you experience it? Above all, remember that we can make differences in this world when we’re healthy participants.

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