Why a Focus on Black Mental Health is More Important Than Ever

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color. This is seen with their increased mortality rates and underlying health conditions. People of color have a larger prevalence of underlying health conditions, likely due to their communities having a harder time accessing health care and affordable healthy food. A lack of accessible healthy food is called food deserts, an area that has limited access to affordable nutritious food. Food deserts can lead to obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which are all very common in communities of color. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans ages 35-49 are 50% more likely to have high blood pressure than white individuals in the same age bracket. Although this is upsetting, this should not be surprising; people of color have had an unequal access to societal resources for centuries.

How does this affect mental health? The current pandemic of COVID-19 has affected the mental health of everyone. Isolation can be scary, especially for those who experience symptoms from a mental illness. With higher mortality rates from COVID-19 in communities with majority people of color, this is impacting their community greatly. More of their friends and family members are being affected by this illness and unfortunately, more of them are passing away from this illness.

Hospitals/stores/restaurants in areas that are predominantly people of color may have less funding to buy PPE. This may lead to an increase in anxiety around the virus, especially since many live with pre-existing health conditions. Many hospitals in these areas are also short staffed, causing an increase in overworked staff. This can lead to burnout, the physical and emotional exhaustion of a repeated stress. Another fear that may be increased for people of color is racial profiling. Due to the current demand that everyone wears a mask in public, people of color partially covering their face opens them up to more systemic discrimination. Mental health for people of color will be impacted by the racism around them and this must be addressed by mental health professionals.

How to cope:

1. Create a support circle.

It’s very important to create a circle of people that you can go to or even distract you when you need it. These people can include your friends, family, psychiatrist, therapist, or even a role model!

2. Talk it out.

Do not be afraid to talk with people you trust about how this affects you. Keeping thoughts bottled up inside isn’t conducive to healing. If talking it out sounds scary, maybe write it out. If you don’t know where to start, maybe start with journaling about how your day went and some of the things that went great or even not so great.

3. Start a new hobby.

Hobbies can be great distractions when we’re struggling. Some ideas: crafting (check out Pinterest!), yoga, biking, writing, volunteering (look for virtual opportunities), reading, drawing, hiking, baking.

4. Participate.

Participating in the conversation around stopping racism can feel very liberating. Invite your friends and family to join you. Change takes time but it is possible. Do not feel hopeless, you may be a small part of the change but every piece to the puzzle matters. Side note: being affected by racism does not automatically make you responsible to stop racism, do what makes you feel comfortable and empowered.

Written by: Melissa Danikowski

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