The Intersections of COVID-19, Police Brutality, and Black Mental Health

BLACK IN AMERICA

Problem

The COVID-19 pandemic and police killings of Black Americans converged in 2020, illuminating long standing inequities and negatively impacting Black mental health.

Background

Black Americans have faced disproportionately higher rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and mortality compared to other groups. Factors contributing to these disparities include higher rates of underlying conditions like diabetes and heart disease, greater occupational exposure through work on the frontlines, and healthcare access barriers. For example, Black Americans are overrepresented among essential workers in healthcare, transportation, and food service, increasing their coronavirus exposure risk. Many also face challenges accessing quality medical care. In terms of police violence, Black Americans continue to be killed by police at over twice the rate of White Americans. Several high-profile police killings of Black Americans were captured on video in 2020, inciting protests against systemic racism. Studies have linked such traumatic events to collective trauma and adverse mental health effects like depression in the Black community. During the pandemic, surveys have shown increasing prevalence of anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts, especially among minorities and essential workers facing isolation, job loss, and health fears.

Policy Response

Culturally competent, accessible mental healthcare is needed to address the trauma, isolation, and economic strain faced by Black Americans during the pandemic and epidemic of police brutality.

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 and police killings illuminated systemic racism and increased trauma for Black Americans.
  • Stigma and lack of access are barriers to Black mental healthcare.
  • Trusted messengers and social media can promote mental health in the Black community.
  • Screening, services, insurance coverage, and tele-health access must expand to meet needs.