Mental health “epidemic” in communities of color

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By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay reporter

FRIDAY, Feb.26, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Color communities face a growing wave of mental health issues as the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way people relate and grieve, experts warn.

“We have a mental health epidemic because of COVID,” said Vickie Mays, Professor of Health Policy and Director of the UCLA Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Minority Health Differences, during an HDLive! Interview.

Mays said mood disorders, substance abuse and suicides are on the rise in racial and ethnic communities across the United States, in part due to the social isolation required to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Think about what it is like to be black or Latin American, to lose someone in your family, and you can’t bring them home the celebration. This is a pain and a grief that people can’t get over,” said Mays. “To know that your mother did everything she could, and here you have to do this online stuff where her friends can’t be with her and comfort her children, it leaves some very deep sorrow and wounds on people that we need to address soon. “

Tasha Clark-Amar, CEO of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging, said in the same interview that after a funeral, families in Louisiana cannot come together to communicate over dinner, “where you come together and say goodbye.”

“These have been cut out and it sure is harmful to the community,” said Clark-Amar.

Urban communities are particularly vulnerable to mood disorders and substance abuse resurgence as they have faced some of the worst waves of COVID-19 cases in the nation, said Dr. Allison Navis. She is a mental health specialist and director of the neurological clinic at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

“Many of our patients who were sick in March or April, even if they had a milder infection, had a very scary time here in town,” said Navis. “They may have been alone in their homes and the hospitals were overwhelmed and heard ambulances outside. Many patients were understandably very afraid of whether they would survive this. It totally affected them and caused depression, anxiety or PTSD.”

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Breakup issues, dysfunctional grief, and post-traumatic stress also affect the daily lives of many Americans who have lost a loved one to COVID, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

“Existing research shows that grief over deaths during the pandemic was more acute than after deaths before the pandemic and deaths from other natural causes,” study author Lauren Breen, associate professor at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, said in a press release the University.

“This exacerbation of grief comes from the need to restrict people’s access to dying loved ones, restrict their participation in important rituals like funerals, and diminish the physical social support they would otherwise receive from friends and family,” said Breen .

Mourning people need better support even before their friends and relatives die, while the sick receive palliative care, Breen said. The United States in particular needs more grief counselors to help people cope with their loss.

Mays believes that social organizations in different communities will have to provide most of the help people need as a result of the pandemic.

“It reminds me of when I was working in New Orleans [Hurricane] Katrina “said Mays.” It will be the community agencies that will have to participate in community rituals and processes in which they will set up support mechanisms for people checking in. “

In one example, organizers in Austin, Texas asked an artist to create a community mural to commemorate those who had died of COVID, said Jill Ramirez, executive director of the Latino HealthCare forum in Austin.

“At that time, nearly 300 people had died. We wrote the number on the mural how many people died, and we invited the community to come and do a vigil,” said Ramirez.

“I think we have to do more of those things so we can really help people grieve,” said Ramirez. “Right now, I think people are just trying to take care of themselves as best they can.”

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More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is more about dealing with grief and loss during the pandemic.

SOURCES: Tasha Clark-Amar, CEO of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging, Louisiana; Jill Ramirez, executive director, Latino HealthCare Forum, Austin, Texas; Vickie Mays, PhD, Professor of Health Policy and Director of the UCLA Center for Research, Education, Training and Strategic Communication on Disparities in Minority Health, Los Angeles; Allison Navis, MD, director of the neurology clinic, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City; Curtin University, press release, February 25, 2021

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