COVID: The Unknown gives rise to ‘all kinds of fear and anxiety’


But Blacks are least likely seek mental health help

This story continues MSR’s coverage of the online forum “We Good: COVID-19 and Black MN.”

At least a third of U.S. adults have experienced more anxiety and depression since the global pandemic hit earlier this year, says a new national report.

New U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Health statistics published last week by show that compared with the same period last year, those suffering from anxiety and depression have seen their symptoms more than triple: From eight percent in 2019 to 28 percent (anxiety), from six percent to 24.4 percent (depression), and from 11 percent to almost 34 percent for both. 

The COVID-19 threat, stay-at-home orders, social distancing, and several months of distance learning for students have exacerbated existing mental health challenges. On June 3, four local health professionals discussed the pandemic’s impact on the Black community from a mental health perspective.  

“We don’t know everything about COVID-19,” declared Adriene Thornton, a Children’s Minnesota infection prevention nurse. “We don’t know what to expect—we are still learning.  We have to figure out how to operate in this new normal.”

 “Everything that was a risk factor before, everything that is associated with poverty, lack of opportunity, structural racism, that affects not only mental health but physical health,” said Dr. Michael Troy, also of Children’s Minnesota. “It is nothing in these circumstances that makes it better, but makes it harder. We need to be aware of all those things.”

COVID “is the unknown [that] creates all kinds of fear and anxiety,” said NorthPoint Supervising Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lolita King. 

“The impacts of COVID-19 on families have varied. A lot of it depends on how people negotiate their family lives,” added University of St. Thomas Marriage and Family Therapist J. Philip Rosier, Jr. “Routine is a very key element. Many people have lost their purpose. They lost their job and lose connections with people. This experience can be frightening for some people.”

The Floyd killing on Memorial Day by Minneapolis police became “just another layer of trauma,” King noted. “It comes from our history of being brutalized. I am really concerned about our young people. I can only imagine [what] our young Black men [are feeling about] what happened to Mr. Floyd.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, problems such as major depression, ADHD, suicide and PTSD, homelessness and exposure to violence. NAMI also noted that only about one-quarter of Blacks seek mental health help compared to 40% of Whites. Many Blacks depend upon their faith and families for emotional support when dealing with mental health concerns.

The Black Mental Health Alliance said that more than a third of suicides by Blacks in this country have involved Black children between the ages of five and 12, exceeding those of White children other ethnicities in the same age group.  

Many Blacks historically fear being called crazy or talking about their problems to strangers. “I think [the subject of mental health] is stigmatized in all communities, but not on the level it is in the African American community,” said mental health advocate Achea Redd. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in 2016, which is characterized by persistent and excessive worrying and being overly concerned about a number of things while finding it difficult to control such worrying.  At least three percent of the U.S. population has GAD, and women are twice as likely to get it. 

“I’m not going to pay somebody and tell them all of my business,” said Redd of how she once felt about therapy. “Most of the time the therapist will be White,”

According to the Black Mental Health Alliance, only six percent of psychologists, five percent of advanced-practice psychiatric nurses, 12 percent of social workers and 21 percent of psychiatrists are Black or other people of color.   

“There is a shortage in African American therapists in most states, and Minnesota is no different,” Rosier added. He and King in later MSR interviews offered their prognosis for surviving in a post-COVID world.

Rosier said this is an opportunity for individuals to “create your own routine or a new routine that match today’s times.” He advises individuals to “invest in yourself, whether that is walking, hobbies, exercise—maybe learning a different language. Spend time investing in yourself, maybe an hour or two a day.”

The Black community always has operated under stressful situations, King pointed out. “We already have these underlying health issues… People are really panicking about the unknown and what to expect. People feel that they have little control of what is happening in their homes and in their communities.”  

Troy asked, “What are we going to do on the other side” of COVID as the state gradually reopens? He strongly advised that mental health help will be needed more than ever post-coronavirus, especially for children. He recommended watching children for any change in behavior which “doesn’t necessarily mean a behavioral problem but rather a signal of what is going on internally.”

King concluded with an upbeat “We can make it through this. If we focus on us really getting better, we can move beyond this.”