People of color have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, affecting mental health for years to come.
Grief is an emotion that can sink down to the marrow and affect many aspects of our lives. Many of us carry this grief around long after it takes hold, and it’s not easy to shake.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many will be mourning the loss of loved ones and normalcy for years to come — a pain that will have an even greater impact on communities of color.
People of color in the United States have seen higher numbers of infection and death than white people and have received less healthcare services.
We’re also seeing high numbers of infection and death in Native American, Hispanic, and Latino communities.
As if the death toll isn’t enough, families of color will be dealing with the economic fallout from COVID-19 for a long time.
Communities of color have been hit harder than predominately white communities. These losses have been felt in many ways.
Let’s look at some hard numbers.
Community and connections
The sense of community has changed. Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, licensed clinical psychologist, explains, “For many people of color, family is central to their identity and well-being. Belonging to a community can provide many buffers against psychological distress.”
This does not just include immediate family, but it can extend to aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. This could also be the church family, which is often a place of refuge in times of distress.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow, MPH, a community health psychologist and assistant professor of writing at George Washington University, confirms that quarantining and social distancing has left people eager for engagement. “Most communities of color come from collectivist cultures — we are meant to be in community around one another. The last year has been hard for those folks.”
Hispanic people, like Black people, also work in essential roles. Hispanic women make up 14% of hospitality workers, and they and Asian women have seen the steepest COVID-19 job losses. The pandemic has been worse for jobs held by communities of color than the recession.
Special events and milestones
Weddings and graduations have been postponed or held via Zoom. For those who’ve had babies during or just before quarantining, it is quite possible that their babies have never met their grandparents.
Many family members are missing first-year milestones for babies born during quarantine.
During the pandemic, an estimated 65% of school-aged children attended school online, while 11% saw no change in how their kids attended school.
Wealthier families were more likely to attend school online, while children from lower-income households were more likely to have their classes canceled.
The rental crisis has overwhelmingly affected families of color. In March 2021, nearly 11 million adults (15%) living in rental homes reported that they were not caught up on rent.
Of these numbers, the majority were renters of color:
- 22% Black
- 20% Latino
- 19% Asian
- 18% American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial
- 9% White
An estimated 22 million (11%) adults report that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the last 7 days.
Black and Latino adults (16% each) were two times as likely as white adults (6%) to report that their households did not get enough to eat. They were also almost three times as likely to need to use a food bank than white families.
About 6 in 10 white (60%) and Asian (58%) adults in the United States say their financial situation has improved since the pandemic began, while a majority of Black (66%) and Hispanic (59%) Americans say their finances have not improved or have gotten worse.
About 24% of U.S. adults ages 50 and older who have not yet retired say that they may have to delay their retirement due to the pandemic.
More Black and Hispanic families have reported needing to use their savings or retirements to help pay bills during this time than other families.
This is no surprise, considering they’ve also been twice as likely as white families to struggle to pay their bills, even before the pandemic.
The pandemic has forced many of us to confront loss while being isolated from our family, friends, and support networks.
Dr. Lira de la Rosa explains that without the ability to gather, processing loss has changed. “It can leave families feeling the loss in a significant way. There are ways of processing grief that so many families have not been able to engage in, which can be healing and help with the loss of loved ones.”
Without access to our loved ones and our rituals, Dr. Lira de la Rosa says, “It can be quite challenging to cope as we may feel alone and disconnected from others.”
How do we grieve?
According to Dr. Lira de la Rosa, grieving comes in different forms. He mentions these common signs of grief:
- shifts in mood
- feeling disconnected from others
- changes in sleep or appetite
- feelings that seem to be in conflict with one another
“It’s not uncommon for those who are grieving to be in different places in their process, and this can vary day to day. Whatever the process, all these emotions are valid and need to be processed and experienced,” he explains.
No matter how we grieve, he says that we need to normalize the process. While there is no wrong way to grieve, he recommends feeling your feelings.
“We need to take a compassionate approach towards ourselves and the ways that we have coped during this pandemic. We may have engaged in both healthy and unhealthy coping skills, but we can honor them all as they have helped us survive.”
We all deal with loss and grief differently. No one person’s grieving process will look the same.
No matter how you deal with grief, Dr. Barlow recommends finding tools to help you cope as you walk through this process.
“Whether it is spiritual, religious, or cultural — they all can offer us some hope,” she says. “We must cultivate tools of joy, drawing upon that which makes us happy and inserting nuggets of it every day.”
Here are some ways Dr. Barlow recommends getting through the grieving process:
- building community and looking after one another to heal
- therapy, whether in person, online, or via an app
- walking outdoors
No matter how overwhelming your grief, Dr. Barlow stresses that you must take the journey one day at a time.
She says, “Understand that every day will be different and that there may be more bad days than good, but we can surround ourselves with loved ones and cultivate joy whenever we can.”
Experts have expressed concerns about prolonged grief. A
Dr. Barlow believes, “The pandemic has meant great loss and change that has forced us to cultivate new ways to interact with our lived environments. This change will no doubt have an effect on the mental health of anyone living through the last year.”
For people of color, Dr. Lira de la Rosa reminds us that, “While we all may be experiencing stress and anxiety in relation to the pandemic, families of color are also having to contend with other stressors that are unique to their identities as minorities in this country.”
The result, he explains, could lead to pandemic grief that is “more complex and nuanced,” which must be addressed.
The grief is from ongoing loss, according to Dr. Barlow. “There is an ongoing loss and grief that is literally disrupting families and lives,” she says.
She continues to stress that, “Within the context of ongoing racial trauma and white supremacy, Black people remain tired and must surrender to heightened normalcy — how we’ve had to become used to pain, grief, and trauma that’s more intense than normal.”
Experts have also expressed concerns with
Dr. Lira de la Rosa mentions that he’s already begun discussing the possibility of symptoms of PTSD after the pandemic with his clients. “We monitor their experiences over time, especially since symptoms of PTSD can develop anywhere from 1 to 3 months after an initial exposure to a traumatic event.”
He says that if the symptoms persist for longer than 6 months after the pandemic, then that person may have PTSD. Signs of PTSD he mentioned include:
- flashbacks or nightmares
- hypervigilance or hyperarousal
- feeling overwhelmed
- difficulty managing responsibilities
Some symptoms of distress can show up at the onset of the trauma, while others may feel effects later.
Dr. Barlow mentions that there’s a process of healing when a person grieves or experiences trauma.
“There is no timeline,” she says, “but working through the steps is essential to optimal health and healing. However, if this individual has PTSD, this process may be more complex and/or longer. Thus, grieving with PTSD means being patient through what can be a long process, but healing and peace is possible.
If the loss feels unbearable, consider reaching out to a health professional for help. Remember that every person deals with grief differently.
You can begin by talking with someone you trust about your feelings and finding some emotional support through family and friends.
Some people find that talking with their primary care physician helps. A healthcare professional can also refer you to a mental health specialist, if needed.
You can also find help by using these find-a-therapist tools:
- American Psychological Association
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
- Open Path Psychotherapy Collective
You can find information about online therapy and mental support services by visiting the following pages:
- The 7 Best Free Online Therapy and Mental Support Services in 2021
- Best Online Therapy Programs of 2021
- The 6 Best Online Couples and Relationship Therapy Services in 2021
When it comes to managing grief, it’s never too early to find a therapist or a trusted individual who can help you feel heard and seen.
Regardless of how much someone has lost during the pandemic, returning to life may still be stressful. After all, we’ve all experienced a collective loss that will take some to navigate.
People of color especially are battling challenges on all fronts, as their jobs, family dynamics, health, and home life have been rocked as a result of this complicated virus.
The continued fight against racial injustice this past year has also added to the stress and anxiety in communities of color.
No matter the severity of our grief, consider creating a plan to cope with what has become your new normal. Dr. Barlow says it best: “We owe it to ourselves to heal and create new worlds.”