COVID’s Lingering Effects on Mental Health Hit Black Community Hard

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Many of us are celebrating the fact that we can gather again with friends and family, go to the grocery without a face mask, watch a ballgame in person and go back to church. Many of us are getting back to the way life used to be pre-COVID.

However, a large percentage of people across our community are suffering in ways we never could have imagined. We have a new mental health crisis we cannot ignore, and it’s hitting the Black community especially hard.

As a community, we must come together to find resources to help our neighbors heal.

The pandemic exposed long-standing inequities related to race, ethnicity and income. Confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths were higher in predominantly Black communities. Black Americans were nearly five times more likely to be hospitalized and twice as likely to die from the virus than were white Americans.

Staggering job losses because of the pandemic resulted not just in lost incomes but also lost health insurance, increased financial instability, food insecurity and more. We’re seeing escalating cases of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and violence. Even those with access to healthcare aren’t seeking help because of the stigma of mental illness, which is especially prevalent in African American communities.

A Commonwealth Fund analysis in April found Black and Latino respondents reporting mental health concerns about COVID at a rate 10 points higher than white respondents. Older Black adults also reported increased isolation and lower access to digital communication tools.

As president of CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions, Central Indiana’s largest not-for-profit caring for older adults, people with disabilities and family caregivers, I know firsthand how social isolation and loneliness often result in declines in physical, mental and cognitive health. Many older adults experience chronic loneliness under normal circumstances—the pandemic only heightened anxiety and depression among this already-vulnerable population.

That isolation was met with heightened anxiety and anger following the deaths of George Floyd and others in highly publicized police killings. Take all of those things together, and it’s easy to see the makings of the current mental health crisis.

More than a third of calls to the CICOA call center over the past year were people seeking mental health services. More than 900 of our managed care clients report a mental health diagnosis, and 30 percent of them are African American.

It’s not just seniors who are suffering. Kids and adults of all ages are increasingly reporting anxiety or feelings of depression. If we don’t do something about it soon, it’s going to lead to more substance abuse, more violence, more poverty and more despair.

We need funds in place for community service in our most impacted neighborhoods, such as Martindale-Brightwood, Eagledale and the near-west side. We need religious leaders to help us educate and advocate. This is going to take a big effort to solve a serious mental health crisis. Who will join me in working on ways to tackle this serious mental health crisis?

Will you contribute to help CICOA provide services for those in need and find resources to help lift our neighbors out of this crisis?

CICOA President and CEO Tauhric Brown
Tauhric Brown

As President and CEO, Tauhric Brown uses his strategic vision and experience in the elderly and disability service industry to expand CICOA services and collaborative partnerships to better meet the needs of the vulnerable populations we serve. Before joining CICOA, Brown served as the chief operating officer for Senior Services, Inc. in Kalamazoo, Mich. His career started in the U.S. Army, and then he became a successful owner/operator for a multi-carrier wireless retail company. Inspired by his family and upbringing, he made the switch to the nonprofit world to fulfill his dream of improving the lives of others.

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