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COVID-19 and race-based stress result in major mental health concerns


For many people within the Black community, racial trauma – or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) – combined with the ongoing challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has created a very unique set of mental and emotional challenges that should not be left untreated.

Kaiser Permanente is raising awareness about mental health issues facing underrepresented groups, including the Black community, and the importance of seeking timely treatment when needed.

“Discrimination based on race has had a profound and painful psychological impact both in the Black community and for so many people of color,” said Chidi Njoku, director of Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Kaiser Permanente South Bay. “When you combine that with the ongoing effects this pandemic has had on people of color, the result is we have communities where there are some very substantial mental health needs.”

According to Njoku, such mental health concerns include difficulties managing one’s anger, depression, PTSD-like symptoms such as hypervigilance, dissociation and flashbacks; reliving traumatic experiences, headaches, insomnia; low self-esteem, and efforts being taken to mentally distance oneself from traumatic events such as substance use and/or abuse.

COVID-19 has unequally affected many racial and ethnic minority groups, including Blacks, putting them more at risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. And, according to PEW Charitable Trusts, racism is a contributor to a public health crisis. It added Black women are up to four times more likely to die of pregnancy related complications than White women. Black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as White men. And the average life expectancy of Black Americans is four years lower than the rest of the U.S. population.

It’s important for Black Americans to seek help when facing mental health challenges – including those caused by the pandemic and racial trauma, Njoku stressed. If left untreated, symptoms can worsen and cause severe problems to one’s overall health.

Concerns about privacy can at times be a common deterrent for some people in minority communities, but Njoku emphasized that protecting your privacy is a highly important aspect of mental health treatment.

“Be assured that discussions with your mental health provider, which include your diagnosis and treatment plan, are kept confidential,” Njoku explained. “No family member, employer or insurance company can access your medical records without the patient’s permission.”

Njoku encourages members of the Black community to seek help if you’re experiencing mental health challenges that rise to the level of affecting their ability to be present in life. When these challenges start affecting their ability to perform at work or school, then it’s time to seek help. When someone is having difficulty showing up for their primary relationships, that is as well a reason to consider seeking help, he noted. When it comes to your mental health, everyone should prioritize themselves and not listen to the stigmas or any other detractors who would discourage you from getting the support you need.

“If you’re too anxious or depressed to advocate for yourself, it’s okay to lean on someone you trust for support to get the help you need,” Njoku added. “Remember: As scary as it may feel, one of the most courageous things you could do is take the time to invest in yourself by seeking help.”