Mental health education gains cultural relevance on TPT NOW

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New multilingual series features experts from diverse communities

Twin Cities PBS and its TPT NOW channel is now airing culturally relevant mental health programming related to COVID-19 and George Floyd’s tragic death. The channel also partners with the Minnesota Department of Health, Wellshare International, and KMOJ-FM, one of four cultural media agencies to also produce mental health resources that feature experts from cultural communities.

According to Mental Health America, one-in-five Americans already have mental health conditions, one-in-two are at risk of developing them, and racism undermines mental health. An April Kaiser Family Foundation poll found nearly half (45 percent) of U.S. adults have been negatively affected by the pandemic due to stress and worry, such as from isolation or job loss.  Social isolation and loneliness can contribute to poor mental health. and YouGov’s COVID-19 tracker point out that women, people of color, people with preexisting health conditions, and adults under age 34 all reported higher rates of fear and anxiety.

The pandemic and its related stay-at-home orders that Minnesota and most of the rest of the nation underwent for nearly two months can worsen pre-existing mental health issues, said two local health experts in an MSR video interview.

“We are seeing a lot of exacerbation,” said Dr. Eli Martinez, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Her specialty includes PTSD and depression. She added that the inability to leave home, conduct normal activities and connect with others, especially mental health professionals, impacted such individuals’ behaviors.

“When people couldn’t do that [leave home, etc.], it led to isolation,” the doctor said. “We are seeing depression and anxiety. We are seeing more people relying on substance abuse.”

Community health worker Angela Fields, who works at People, Incorporated, said that she and her fellow workers were impacted by the pandemic because they couldn’t meet in person with the clients. “Community health workers are connected to the community because we have relationships with these individuals,” she stressed.

“Chronic disease and chronic disorders were already on the rise and very devastating to our community, especially communities of color,” she added. “So when the pandemic occurred, I believe this highlighted the need to take care of ourselves. We already had a level of awareness that we needed to start taking care of ourselves, our bodies and our environment.”  

Fields and Martinez are among nine local individuals who worked with TPT in their culturally relevant project.

“I was excited to participate,” said Martinez.

“The offer was extended to me to be the spokesperson for the African American community to talk about the effect of COVID-19 and mental health during these uncertain times,” Fields said.

TPT NOW (Channel 2.5) also produced “Coping with COVID-19, a guide to mental health resources” in Native languages and translated into English, Spanish, Hmong and Somali. These materials also were made available to public health officials and on the TPT’s Facebook page.

KMOJ aired a Black-specific mental health segment July 29, and a second Latinx segment will be broadcast on Univision Minnesota August 8, 10:30 am. Hmong (You Tube) and Somali (Facebook) already have been streaming their community-specific segments.  

The virus has taught eye-opening lessons in many ways regarding the health inequities in this country, Fields pointed out. “It showed us all of the inequities that are in our community. It showed us that these communities were hardest hit and the effects of mental health have been exacerbated.”

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