Mental Health and Racial Justice in the Time of COVID-19

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On November 11th, 2020, Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D. presented her most recent study findings at the “COVID-19 Research and Resources Research Forum” at Fordham University. The presentation was entitled, “Mental Health and Racial Justice in the Time of Covid-19.” During the presentation, Dr. Fisher, Professor of Psychology, Marie Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics, and Director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education, discussed the impact of Covid-19 on both the physical health and mental health of Black, AIAN, and Latinx communities.

This year, two pandemics emerged: Covid-19 and heightened racism against Black Americans. Together, they have widened existing physical and mental health disparities for black and non-Black people of color. In terms of the physical impact of Covid-19, Black, AIAN, and Latinx communities have disproportionately contracted and died from the virus due to (a) their role as essential workers, (b) pre-existing health disparities, and (c) lack of access to healthcare. Additionally, systemic mental health disparities among these communities include (a) pre-pandemic impact of systemic racism and associated stressors on mental healh, (b) longstanding inequities in access to mental healthcare, and (c) historical medical abuses leading to distrust in healthcare providers.

In a 2020 study conducted by Fordham University (Fisher, Tao, & Yip, 2020) that polled 305 Black, Indigenous, and Latinx young adults aged 18-25, participants were asked about the unique impact of Covid-19 on their mental health. The study found that these communities are experiencing loss of access to basic needs, health disparities, and risks of mental health disparities including depression and anxiety.

Basic Needs

Financial Insecurity
– 46% of participants reported an income of less than $31,000
– 30% of participants shared that they “can’t make ends meet”

Food Insecurity
– 19% of participants reported “not [having] enough money” and skipping meals
– 23% of participants were worried that would “run out of food.”

Health Disparities

Pre-existing CDC COVID Health Risk
– 40% of participants had at least 1 pre-existing health risk
– The most common health risks included asthma, obesity, and heart condition

Prescription Insecurity
– 36% of participants reported being “unable to fill prescription” due to costs, lack of insurance, or being unable to reach physician or pharmacy

Covid Related Mistreatment
– 19% of participants reported being “mistreated by healthcare worker” because they were assumed to have Coronavirus

Employed participants were especially vulnerable: they were more likely to face financial and food insecurity than their unemployed peers, and also were more likely to report prescription insecurity and mistreatment from healthcare providers.

Mental Health Disparities

– 13% of participants reported moderate depression
– 22% of participants reported moderately severe depression
– 56% of participants reported severe depression

– 18% of participants reported moderate anxiety
– 22% of participants reported severe anxiety

Predictors of depression and anxiety include employment, Covid health risks, financial insecurity, and prescription insecurity.

Additionally, the authors of the study developed two psychometrically validated scales: The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Racial Bias Scale (CRBS) and The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Victimization Distress Scale (CVDS).

Black and Latinx people scored significantly higher than AIAN on CRBS, but not CVDS, while essential and non-essential employed persons scored significantly higher than unemployed on both the CRBS and CVDS. Overall, Coronavirus Victimization Distress and Coronavirus Racial Bias beliefs significantly increased levels of depression and anxiety among Black, AIAN, and Latinx communities.

Key Findings

  • Public fear and stigma has led to Coronavirus specific victimization and increased concern over racial bias.
  • Employed persons are especially vulnerable to Coronavirus victimization and fears of increased racial bias. 
  • The Coronavirus has reversed the protective influence of employment on mental health.
  • Beyond health, financial and employment factors, Coronavirus Victimization and Coronavirus Racial Bias beliefs increase racial disparities in mental health

At the end of her presentation, Dr. Fisher stressed that specific acts of racial victimization due to Covid-19 and fears that it has increased racial bias need to be discussed as a syndemic in which racism and the pandemic interact synergistically in their negative effect on mental health. Implications and recommendations for mental health justice and mental health cultural competence include:

  • Practitioners must acknowledge the intersecting influences of race and Coronavirus public fears on the mental health of racial/ethnic minority patients.
  • Cultural competence requires mental health practitioners to quickly obtain the skills to help patients practically address COVID public reactions deleterious to their mental health.
  • Failing to do so can jeopardize treatment through invalidating the lived experience of Black, AIAN, & Latinx people.

To view Dr. Fisher’s entire presentation, click here or download below:

Source: Fisher, C. B., Tao, X., & Yip, T. (2020). The Effects of Coronavirus Victimization Distress and Coronavirus Racial Bias on Mental Health Among Black, Indigenous and Latinx Young Adults in the United StatesmedRxiv

Celia B. Fisher, Ph.D. is the Fordham University Marie Ward Doty University Chair in Ethics and Director of the Center for Ethics Education and the HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute. Fisher’s Decoding the Ethics Code: A Practical Guide for Psychologist, is now in its fourth edition from Sage Publications.

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