COVID-19, Mental Health, and Inequity

As of October 11, 2020, 37.3 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported around the world, with 7.75 million of them in the US alone. According to [1], 46.4 percent of people “will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.” Unfortunately, COVID-19 has led to increased stress, anxiety, and depression for many individuals.

One major contributor to rising stress levels and mental health challenges is social isolation. For example, [2] reports that 21% of surveyed individuals stated that sheltering-in-place has had a major negative impact on their mental health, while a further 27% claimed that SIP had a minor negative impact. Households with children or elderly individuals may be facing even higher levels of stress and anxiety.

Beyond social isolation, BIPOC individuals are facing disproportionate mental health impacts during this time. For example, Professor David Williams of Harvard University reveals [3] that “every police killing of an unarmed Black person in America led to worse mental health, not just for the family and friends but for the entire Black population for the state in which it occured for the next three months.” According to [4], “roughly 4 in 10 Black, Latino, or mixed-race people report symptoms of anxiety or depression at above-average rates.” COVID-19 has also revealed systemic inequalities in America’s healthcare system – BIPOC communities face higher rates of COVID-19 incidence and mortality.

Many individuals are also facing mental health stressors due to loss of employment or inability to pay for rent or basic living expenses. This report [5] in the Wall Street Journal looks at a report from the Labor Department which estimates that 30 million jobs have been cut because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayo Clinic reports that joblessness caused by COVID-19 can lead to feelings of loss, anger, jealously, and worry, among other things.

What are some solutions to combat the unprecedented impacts that COVID-19 is having on mental health? Teletherapy, community support, and increased funding for mental health services could be impactful first steps. In any case, it’s clear that COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health inequities which must be urgently addressed.

[1] https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2019/02/5-surprising-mental-health-statistics/
[2] https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
[3] https://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article245494580.html
[4] https://www.chcf.org/blog/chcfs-response-covid-19-behavioral-health-crisis-california/
[5] https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-many-u-s-workers-have-lost-jobs-during-coronavirus-pandemic-there-are-several-ways-to-count-11591176601

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