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Pandemic, Social Justice Protests, Weigh On Minority Mental Health

couple holding hands - 2143x3000.jpg
Alyssa Sieb
A Black couple, featuring a woman in a yellow sweater, hold hands

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on millions of people around the world. In the United States, Black people are more at risk of dying from or developing serious complications from the virus. The economic fallout has also had a disproportionate impact on minorities, and the summer of racial justice protests has only compounded the mental and emotional stress for some.

“The impact is often felt in the consulting room with Black clients who are experiencing anxiety, anger, exhaustion and a feeling of powerlessness in the face of racial inequalities and injustices,” said Pyschotherapist and author Lola Jaye. She notes race and systemic racism can and do have direct impacts on psychological health.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed Americans between Nov. 30 and Dec. 8, inquiring about their mental health during the pandemic. The Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, found COVID-19 has had a major impact on the mental health of 1 in 4 adults.

About 57% of women reported their mental health has declined, compared to 44% of men.

The implications are bad for minority women, who have found themselves juggling childcare, their households and their jobs. Women make up the bulk of the frontline workforce in hard-hit service jobs. Minority women are also more likely to experience major depression as white men but, according to Erica Richards, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins, they’re only half as likely to seek help.

In Florida’s Capital City, Tallahassee—home to two state universities and a college, the stress of a pandemic, wrapped up racial justice protests fueled by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, hasn't abated.

In June, the city of Tallahassee was directly hit with tragedy when 19-year-old Oluwatoyin Salau was found dead after being missing for days. She had been sexually assaulted and killed by a man who offered her help.

“We are allowed to get angry, Black people," Salau said in a powerful viral video at a Tallahassee protest. "We have a right to get angry. We don’t have to hold that anger in.”

Florida A&M University student Ashleigh Hall helped lead a handful of the Tallahassee protests, but says she was stressed, trying to balance school, with her social justice efforts, and a news cycle that kept Black death at the forefront of a national racial reckoning.

“Seeing new hashtags of lost Black lives on twitter every day became tiring. I was tired of sitting down and watching my people be murdered so I took action by utilizing social media to put on protests around the city. It was scary because I know police get violent at protests so I did my best to conceal my identity when protesting. I did not want to become another hashtag so I tried to remain as safe as possible but I knew that something had to be done.”

Inecia Gatson took the pandemic hard when she had to deal with contracting Covid-19. It was the latest blow to her health. Gatson was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease earlier this year.

She was a “roller coaster of emotions ranging from happiness to extreme sadness,” Gatson said. The coronavirus also took multiple loved ones from her. It all came amid her senior year. Still, she managed to recover from COVID-19 and graduate. It’s bittersweet.

Death permeated the year. Aurie Hill, 21, still feels the hurt of not being able to be with family.

“I lost three loved ones during this time, one being my best friend from back home. I couldn’t even support them in person during their last moments. I just had to do Zoom calls. That is something I regret and I will be depressed about for a really long time,” Hill said.

I am Adriana Alexander, a broadcast journalism senior at Florida A&M University (FAMU). I currently write stories for the FAMU campus newspaper, The FAMUAN and produce content for FAMU’s radio station, 90.5. As a former anchor of the News 20 at 5 FAMU newscast, I also edited video packages and worked as an associate producer. I own AEA Visuals, a media company focused on producing quality photography, videography, and graphic design. Multimedia journalism is my passion and is what I will continue to do throughout my career.