At the end of 2019, the year ended in the U.S. for many people as expected. Off in what seemed like the distance, we heard of Coronavirus becoming widespread in Wuhan, China. We watched in horror as we witnessed them shutting down schools, businesses, and the like. And even when a few cases erupted in the United States, most people thought it would be a few isolated instances, and we carried on with our busy lives.
By March 2020, Coronavirus became a global pandemic. While many health officials focused on the lasting effects of the disease from a physical standpoint (and rightfully so); therapists across the country cringed at the thought of the impact strict quarantine regulations would have on the mental health of individuals.
Some who have not contracted the disease have still been suffering and many silently. Coronavirus has provoked higher rates of teenage suicide, greater levels of depression in seniors as well as, middle-aged adults, and many moms and dads are at their wit’s end trying to play the role of both parent and teacher. While mental health issues affect individuals regardless of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, we have to take a closer look into the effect this pandemic has had on the black community.
For many African Americans who rely on the extended family unit, houses of worship, and even schools as places for socializing and support, the closure of these public places and the restriction on families gathering due to the pandemic increase stress and anxiety.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Blacks in the United States have been contracting and dying from COVID-19 at higher and more alarming rates than their white counterparts. Certain risk factors that were already in place before COVID-19 hit include, living in crowded housing conditions, working in essential fields, inconsistent access to healthcare, and higher rates of chronic illnesses.
This has left an already vulnerable population reeling from the effects of this virus, as it relates to mental health. African Americans are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide. Black individuals with preexisting mental illness are most vulnerable for several reasons. These reasons include poverty and even incarceration. Not only do black Americans experience stigma and marginalization related to their mental illness, but also racism and discrimination based on race and class.
Psychological stress often goes untreated in African Americans due to lack of resources and stigma as it relates to therapy within the community. In this critical time, black therapists have a responsibility to reach out to this vulnerable population. Possible solutions include free teletherapy to individuals who have access to phone and/or internet, free socially distant counseling sessions where applicable, and distribution of information detailing the dangers of mental health unchecked, within the community. Currently, the black community faces two pandemics. Now more than ever, black clinicians must work hard to remove the shame and stigma black often experience as it relates to mental illness and treatment.
Tags: mental health, blacks and mental health, covid-19 and African Americans, black history month, Mya Speller, black therapists, black clinicians, counseling in the black community