COVID-19, AIDS, Mental Health, and Black and Brown Communities
The effects of COVID-19 continue to disproportionately impact communities of color throughout the United States. Approximately 98 out of every 100,000 African Americans have died from COVID-19, a mortality rate that is a third higher than that for Latinos and more than double than that for Whites and Asians (nih.gov, 2020). Additionally, the pandemic has adversely affected those with existing illnesses and exacerbated mental health conditions among the most vulnerable populations in our country.
With AIDS awareness month coming in December, we turn our attention to the approximately 1.2 million people in the US diagnosed with HIV and consider how COVID-19 and has impacted the lives of people struggling with HIV and/or AIDS. In 2020, Blacks represented 12% of the U.S. population but accounted for 42% of new HIV diagnoses, and the pandemic has resulted in disruption of prevention efforts, testing, access to treatment, and the management of long-term HIV and mental health concerns (Amo, Diaz, & Polo, 2022). According to Camara Jones (former president of the American Public Health Association), these factors are intensified for Black and Brown communities who are still inadequately served by public and private healthcare organizations (nationalacademies.org, 2020). These factors can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.
The CDC reports that over 30% of adults felt consistently anxious and worried in 2020 (census.gov,2021). However, those who are subject to racism, discrimination, and inequity were further affected in terms of poor mental health. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (2021), Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than White adults to experience persistent symptoms of emotional distress, but only one in three Black adults with mental illness receive treatment. The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Mental Health Facts for African Americans guide reports that adults from Black and Brown communities are also less likely to receive guideline-consistent care, are less frequently included in research, and are more likely to use emergency rooms or primary care (rather
than mental health specialists) when seeking treatment. Despite these challenging statistics, greater attention has been given in the past few years to improving the healthcare experiences of these underserved communities.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing challenges with their mental health, you deserve and should seek quality care from a culturally competent health care professional as soon as the symptoms are recognized. Providers expect and welcome questions from their patients or clients, since this helps them better understand what is important in their treatment. When meeting with a provider, it can be helpful to ask questions to get a sense of their level of cultural awareness. Consider asking, “Do you use a different approach in your treatment when working with patients from different cultural backgrounds” and “What is your current understanding of differences in health outcomes for Black patients?”
Whether you seek help from a primary care professional or a mental health professional, you should finish your sessions with the health care professional feeling heard and respected. You may want to ask yourself, “Did my provider communicate effectively with me,” “Did I feel like I was treated with respect and dignity,” and “Do I feel like my provider understands and relates well with me?” The relationship and communication between you and your healthcare providers is a key aspect of treatment. It’s very important for you to feel that your identity is understood in order to receive the best possible support and care.
For links to more information about getting help, see https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Black-African-American.
Amo, J.D.; Diaz, A.; & Polo, R. (2022). The impact of coronavirus disease 2019 on people with HIV. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/07/how-pandemic-affected-black-and-white-households.html
Dr. Delvena R. Thomas, D.O., M.P.H.
Board Certified Psychiatrist
CEO and Treating Psychiatrist – DRT Behavioral Services, PLLC
LTC, US Army Reserve