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The Impact of COVID-19 on Minority Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us in a variety of ways – everything from our social lives to our mental health has been affected in one way or another. Reports of civil unrest have also been more prevalent in the media, and these images can be extremely stressful. The pandemic, coupled with the increase in civil unrest, can feel overwhelming for everyone, but it’s important to understand how communities of color are uniquely affected by these current events.

Before we dive into the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in people of color, we want to paint a picture of where we are. According to the American Psychiatric Association:

  1. Seventeen percent of Black Americans report living with a mental illness, compared to 15% of Hispanic Americans, 13% of Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI), and 23% of Native and Indigenous Americans and 19% of White Americans— vs. roughly 18% of the overall U.S. population.
  2. Although communities of color experience mental illness at similar rates to White Americans, people of color often bear a disproportionately higher burden of disability resulting from a mental disorder or diagnosis.
  3. Among adults with mental illness, 48% of White Americans received mental health services, compared to 31% of Black Americans and Latinx/Hispanic Americans and 22% of AAPI populations.
  4. People who identify as Black and Latinx/Hispanic experience lower rates of depression than White Americans, but are more likely to have more persistent symptoms.
  5. Lack of cultural understanding and competency by health care providers may contribute to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental illness in people from racially and ethnically diverse populations.

Taking these statistics into account, it’s clear that disparities exist not only between White Americans and communities of color, but also between racially/ethnically diverse populations as well. In many cases, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified these differences as specific communities have been impacted in different ways. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of depression were reported 59% more frequently by Hispanic adults (40.3%) than non-Hispanic White adults (25.3%). Additionally, a larger percentage of multi-racial and non-Hispanic adults of other races and ethnicities reported stress and worry about stigma or discrimination associated with being blamed for spreading COVID-19 in comparison to White adults.

The CDC data, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also noted that stigma, including harassment and discrimination, and social or structural determinants of health (e.g., inadequate access to safe housing, healthy food, transportation and health care) can increase the risk of chronic stress among people in racial and ethnic minority groups. In 2019, Black Americans reported not having enough food three times as frequently, and Hispanic Americans twice as frequently, as White Americans.

COVID-19 has affected us all, but consequences of the pandemic have been distributed unevenly across demographic groups, highlighting existing, glaring inequities in our healthcare systems. It is becoming increasingly important that we check in with our loved ones, coworkers, community members and ourselves. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and there are steps we can take to make sure we stay happy, healthy and informed. Activities like self-care, educating by research, and having honest conversations with each other are great places to start. Together we can #BeTheDifference for ourselves and our communities – and work towards a more equitable future.

For more ways you can support and learn about mental health in communities of color, take a look at our blogs and other educational resources:

  1. Mental Health By the Numbers
  2. Addressing Increasing Suicide Rates in the Black Community: How You Can Help
  3. Five Ways to be More Culturally Aware
  4. Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations

 

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2017). Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations. https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/mental-health-facts

McKnight-Eily LR, Okoro CA, Strine TW, et al. (2020, February 5). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Prevalence of Stress and Worry, Mental Health Conditions, and Increased Substance Use Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, April and May 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2021;70(5):162–166.

Mental Health America. (2021). BIPOC Mental Health. https://www.mhanational.org/bipoc-mental-health