The COVID-19 pandemic causes mental distress in everyone, but especially in the African-American and Latinx communities, due to centuries of racism, according to an article in the women’s magazine “Marie Claire.”
The piece was written by Marah Lidey, co-founder and co-CEO of the health and wellness app “Shine.” Lidey begins her story with reminiscing of her father, who to this day lives in fear and recalls the events of his childhood like it happened yesterday. Her father got picked up by the police as a 16-year-old in Savannah, Ga., as he was walking around his neighborhood.
The story sounds familiar.
Racism comes in different forms, and is not just an historic problem of the past, but it’s also a problem in current times, as witnessed in the stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and many more.
Many African-American families have to teach their children how to behave if they get randomly stopped by the police for whatever reason. There is a parent’s constant fear that their child might not make it home from a party or school. African-Americans live in constant fear of becoming a target of police brutality or White supremacy.
Lidey also experienced racism as a child, she writes. Growing up in Warren, Penn., Lidey had to change elementary schools three times, because many of the mostly White faculty and students, wouldn’t leave her alone.
One principal told her mother that Lidey might as well change school again, since she didn’t belong there anyway. One time, Lidey recalls, a boy from her elementary school called her the N-word as he was beating her repeatedly. But it didn’t stop there. Throughout her school- and even work-life, she felt racism.
“For hundreds of years, this compounding systemic racism and generational trauma have wreaked havoc on Black wellbeing,” Lidey writes in her article.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 20 percent of African-Americans are more likely to experience serious mental health disorders than the rest of the population. Also, African-American women are more prone to experience sexual assault than their White counterparts.
Research conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that African-Americans are more likely to become victims of a hate crime and are therefore at higher risk to develop Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). However, according to research conducted by Dr. Joy DeGruy, the mental health-related stress associated with slavery and institutional racism established the theory of “Post-Traumatic-Slavery-Syndrome (P.T.S.S.).”
According to DeGruy, “P.T.S.S. is a theory that explains the etiology of many of the adaptive survival behaviors in African-American communities throughout the United States and the Diaspora. It is a condition that exists as a consequence of multigenerational oppression of Africans and their descendants resulting from centuries of chattel slavery. This form of slavery was predicated on the belief that African-Americans were property to be owned, sold or traded. This was then followed by institutionalized racism which continues to perpetuate injury.”
The ADAA also found out that depression in African-Americans is more damaging, lasting, and harder to treat.
Research has also discovered that the African-American community has their own, unique mental struggles, not typically found in White America. One example is “racial battle fatigue,” which results from chronic racism and microaggressions. Symptoms include anxiety and worry, high blood pressure, headaches, and hyper-vigilance, among other psychological and physical symptoms.
“This is in addition to the physiological impacts of sharing the same cells as our ancestors who were beaten, tortured, raped, and enslaved for hundreds of years,” Lidey writes.
According to an article published by anxiety.org, nationally conducted polls show that 88 percent of African-Americans believe they experience racism in the United States; 87 percent of African-Americans consider it to be “serious” and “very serious;” and 78 percent say they believe that racism in the United States is “widespread.”
However, the problem isn’t just the fact that many African-Americans don’t feel comfortable talking about—or addressing—their mental health issues, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, but also the fact that mental health facilities are often not as accessible in the African-American community. Although minority groups might have fewer mental illnesses than their White counterparts, they suffer from long-lasting effects because of the lack of treatment.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, racial disparities are seen in those who receive treatment and early detection as children.
African-Americans teens are reported to end up in the juvenile justice system more often than White American teens, who are most likely to receive treatment as a so-called “problem child.”
Data shows that in 2015, 48 percent of White American adults who suffered from mental health illness, received treatment compared to 31 percent of African-Americans and Latinx, and 22 percent of Asians.
Depression in African-Americans is also often overlooked.
Army Veteran Demetrius Minor experienced exactly that. In an article written by Shari Celestine for WebMD, Minor talks about how his depression diagnosis “slipped” through the mental health system.
Minor, 41, left the army over 12 years ago and although physically healthy, his mental health was in jeopardy.
“Because I looked healthy,” Minor says. “They are looking for broken bones and ask you the easy questions, like, ‘Do you feel like hurting yourself or others?’ No. So the help was technically there, but there was no real deep dive.”
It’s not just the lack of mental health providers in African-American communities but also finding the right provider who understands the African-American culture. As of 2015, only 4 percent of psychologists in the United States were of African-American descent, which is less diverse than the entire U.S. population, according to the American Psychology Association (APA).
“I am still coming to terms with the impact that racism has had on my own mental health. My daily anxiety, the grief I hold in my body every day-I know that these aren’t just the result of a ‘busy’ ‘overconnected’ culture,” Lidey writes. “No, my mental health struggles are directly tied to my father’s experience with the police that day. And to the experience of my ancestors. To my childhood bullies. To my negligent bosses. To my daily experience being a Black woman in America.”