From a mental health perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect storm. Fear of catching and spreading the novel coronavirus, economic-related anxiety, and the isolation from sheltering at home are taking an enormous emotional toll.

That’s especially true in minority communities, which face double jeopardy. They are more likely to be affected by COVID-19 and less likely to have access to quality mental health care.

Since May is Mental Health Month, we are calling attention to both disparities. We also urge people to seek help if you’re experiencing mental health issues during the pandemic. Longer term, we encourage you to join Clinical Research Pathways and other organizations in working to advance health equity.

A disproportionate impact

Research shows that COVID-19 is doing more harm to many of the most vulnerable Americans. Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans, who already faced health and economic disparities, are more likely than white Americans to experience negative effects of COVID-19. For example:

  • In March, the first month of U.S. surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black patients represented 33% of those who were hospitalized but only 18% of the population of the surveillance area.
  • Although blacks make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, 52% of CODIV-19 diagnoses—and 58% of deaths—from late January to mid-April were in U.S. counties with higher percentages of black residents, according to a study by epidemiologists and clinicians at four universities.
  • About 61% of Hispanic/Latino Americans and 44% of black Americans said they or someone in their household lost their job or suffered wage cuts due to COVID-19, compared with 38% of white Americans, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April.
  • Sheltering in place increases stress. In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 47% of respondents sheltering in place reported negative mental health effects caused by coronavirus-related worry or stress, compared with 37% of those not sheltering in place, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Experts are sounding the alarm about the impact of additional stress on the mental health of communities that have long been underserved. Even before the pandemic:

  • 69.4 % of black Americans and 67.1% of Hispanic/Latino Americans with mental illness received no treatment, according to a 2018 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Among white Americans, 56.7% did not receive treatment.

What you can do

If you or a loved one is feeling depressed or anxious, tell someone. If you have a primary care provider, call to request a referral to a mental health specialist. Be sure to ask about telehealth options, which make it easier to access care during the pandemic.

Take advantage of online resources. Mental Health America provides a comprehensive list of links to tools, information, and services. The CDC offers information on “Taking Care of Your Emotional Health.” If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, take steps to improve access to mental health services for all Americans. Get involved with advocacy organizations, support local efforts to improve access to care, and urge your legislators to make health equity a priority.