BIPOC Mental Health Matters Even More during the COVID-19 Pandemic

July 6, 2020

MERCERVILLE - The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted a gap in the accessibility to treatment for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, compared to the general population. The APM Research Lab has independently compiled mortality data for Washington D.C. and 45 states. The data suggests that Black individualsexperience the highest overall mortality rates and the most widespread occurrence of disproportionate deaths is one in 1,500 people. The same data indicates that one in 2,300 Indigenous Americans and one in 3,200 Latino Americans have died from COVID-19. In comparison, one in 3,600 White Americans have died as a result of COVID-19. The mortality rate and loss can also be traumatic for the BIPOC community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that the reasons why BIPOC are more likely to contract and die from coronavirus are poor living conditions and work circumstances, being uninsured, potential language barriers, higher rates of chronic conditions at earlier ages resulting in higher death rates, and systemic inequalities.

These trends are also applicable to BIPOC communities accessing mental health treatment services and can result in unaddressed trauma. Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers, according to Mental Health America. Treatment can also be a barrier as Black individuals are offered medication and/or therapy at lower rates than the general population in addition to encountering stigma and judgement that prevent people from seeking treatment. A 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin or Descent from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that overall mental health issues are on the rise for Latino/Hispanic people between the ages of 12 and 49. Binge drinking, smoking, illicit drug use, and prescription pain reliever misuse are more frequent among Latino/Hispanic adults with mental illness, according to Mental Health America. Indigenous individuals also report experiencing serious psychological distress over a month's time 2.5 times more than the general population and begin to abuse alcohol and other drugs at younger ages and higher rates than all ethnic groups. However, many indigenous people experience poverty which results in economic barriers that prevent them from seeking treatmentif they are aware of it.

"The racial disparities that remain in society and in systems of care, including lack of access to mental health services in BIPOC communities, must be not only recognized but also addressed with solutions, especially during the COVID-19. Events such as the murder of George Floyd have underscored the increased anxiety and depression that exist in these in communities. If the barriers that BIPOC communities encounter are considered in a mental health framework, it would lead to more effective outcomes," said Debra L. Wentz, PhD, President and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc.

This year's theme for BIPOC Mental Health Month is "#ImpactTrauma". The word "trauma" is associated with a frightening event, including exposure to violence, happening to someone. The short-term reactions to trauma include shock and denial, while longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, and physical symptoms including headaches and nausea. Mental Health America states that people can carry trauma throughout generations due to historical adversities, violence and oppression. Using an intersectional perspective in frameworks and treatment allows providers to consider historical factors and can lead to more impactful outcomes. Click here to access the 2020 BIPOC Mental Health Month Toolkit from Mental Health America, which also includes sample language to use on social media.

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