Pandemic, POC & Mental Health

By: Nyia Harris, Freelance Community Journalist-in-Training

As I sit back reflecting on this last year, I cannot help but think about how most of us have experienced just about every single emotion possible. This last year has been tough on everyone, but especially if you suffer from mental health concerns.  Compound that with being a person of color and it can feel even more overwhelming.

I sat down with Dante Williams (virtually of course), a friend of mine and a second-year doctoral student at St. Thomas, who is studying psychology and just finished up his 20 hour a week practicum for a local therapy clinic.

I told him we would need about 45 minutes. However, since we are both talkers, we knew that was code for at least two hours (turned out to be about two and half hours to be exact). Our conversation regarding mental health, specifically as it relates to people of color, really made me pause and reflect that Saturday afternoon.

He explained to me that although the effects of the pandemic have been tough on everyone, it has been particularly difficult for people of color.

“In many ways, it has exacerbated many of the dire situations that people of color were already facing,” Dante said. “Increased anxiety and depression with lack of interpersonal connections is an unfortunate mix.”

He cited an article for the American Psychological Association (Volume 12, Number 5).  The article noted – “From a mental health perspective, the pandemic has heightened fear in a segment of the population that already faces significant barriers to mental health treatment.  The disparities between people of color and whites are likely due to a greater stigma surrounding mental illness, the lack of culturally competent mental health care providers, general distrust of the health care system, and lack of insurance/underinsurance.”

Dante provided advice on how everyone can stay mentally healthy during these trying times.

Reach Out –  Whether it is a phone call or a virtual happy hour, take time to reach out to the people in your circle. Do what you can to remove the feeling of isolation.

Sleep –  Make sure you are getting adequate sleep (ideally 7 to 8 hours).Now is a great time to make a bedtime routine if you do not have one.  And here, the important part is sticking to it.

Watch Your Diet –  It may seem easy these days for the lines to blur from breakfast to lunch, and lunch to dinner. Make sure you are incorporating fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables in diet and take a vitamin D supplement.

Exercise –  Do something you like, whether it is playing tag with the kids or finding a way to make household chores more challenging and fun. Whatever you do, move for at least 30 minutes a day. 

Do not be afraid to ask for professional help. Reach out to a trained and certified mental health professional, they can provide therapy as well as point you in the right direction for prescription medication that can really help.

Several support groups exist within your local community, your workplace, and even online. Make a point to reach out if you have a need. Healthy people get help and there is no need to suffer in silence.

After speaking with Dante at length, he gave me the courage to want to share my own story. He told me: “Give yourself grace and do not beat yourself up with shame.”

So here it is: Personally, everyday has felt like the movie Groundhog’s Day. 

The last time I was physically at work, at a desk, in a building was on Friday, March 13, 2020.

I was diagnosed with mild depression several years ago and over the years have been treated with a combination of medication and therapy, with the full understanding that my depression will never fully go away. I can only learn how to manage it. 

If I am being honest with myself, I have had some dark moments that have felt downright scary at times during this pandemic. I constantly need to remind myself that I am loved, and I can ask for help at any time if I need it. My goal by being vulnerable about my mental health state (especially being a black woman) is that I can give others strength to share with those around them, and they too can learn that they are not alone. 

I tried to explain to my husband what it feels like to slip into a depressive state. For me it feels like being in a dark cave and every time you try to crawl closer to the light, the light gets further and further away. It can feel terrifying and lonely, but I remind myself to share how I am feeling with someone who cares about me and that has always helped me.

“Own what you need to own and give away what you can’t.” -unknown

If you or someone you know needs help now, here are just a few national resources.
1.800.273.TALK 1.800.950.NAMI

Help is everywhere, you just need to ask for it.

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