Panchal and associates (September 22, 2022) are researchers that have studied the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color (POC). The impact of social distancing, loss of employment, loss of gathering at places of worship, and dealing with illness and death are taking their toll on society. Unfortunately, suicide deaths have increased faster among POC. The recent rise in deaths associated with drug overdoses, rates of mental illness, and substance use may be underdiagnosed among people of color. People of color have experienced worsening mental health during the pandemic. People of color face disproportionate barriers to accessing mental health care.
Vasquez (2022) adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted POC in multiple ways that contribute to poor mental health. During the pandemic, people of color have experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death and more significant financial challenges, which may negatively impact their mental health. There are several contributing factors to the increasing rate of suicides within Black American culture. The COVID-19 pandemic did not make the circumstances any better.
Blum (April 20, 2021) reports that early in the pandemic, there were worries among mental health professionals about COVID-19’s impacts on people’s isolation, stress, and finances. It was believed that Americans’ unprecedented purchases of guns would surge suicides, says psychiatrist Dr. Nestadt.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Nestadt, spikes in suicide rates were documented during the 1889 and 1918 flu pandemics and in the elderly in Hong Kong after the 2003 SARS outbreak. Nestadt conducted a study analyzing suicides among Maryland residents during the first six months of the year by race. They found that suicides among white residents decreased by 45% from early March to early May, while suicides among Black residents increased by 94% in the same time frame.
Years from now, when we look at how the pandemic affected public health, not only did the virus wreak havoc throughout the world, the mental effects on suicide, particularly on people that already challenged by other environmental and social stresses. The research appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. So, starting the new year of 2023, how do we change the narrative about suicide in Black American culture? Open discussions about mental health and the effects of mental health on suicide attempts and suicides. Seeking professional help for mental illness is becoming more readily available. But, the statistics are alarming, and we will have to be our brother and sister’s keepers to recommend service.
The Narrative Matters!
Blum, K. (April 20, 2021).Suicides Rise in Black Population During COVID-19 Pandemic. Suicides Rise in Black Population During COVID-19 Pandemic (hopkinsmedicine.org)
Fickman, L. (February 2, 2022). Suicide Rates Have Increased Dramatically Among African Americans. Suicide Rates Have Increased Dramatically Among African Americans – University of Houston (uh.edu)
Norton, A. (October 15, 2019). Suicide Attempts Rising Among Black Teens. Suicide Attempts Rising Among Black Teens – Consumer Health News | HealthDay
Parker, D. (July 18, 2018). Changing the Conversation About Suicide in the Black Community. Changing the Conversation About Suicide in the Black Community | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness
Panchal, N., Saunders,H. and Ndugga, N. (September 22, 2022). Five Key Findings on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders by Race/Ethnicity. Five Key Findings on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders by Race/Ethnicity | KFF
Pottiger, M. (November 30, 2022). Why Do Holidays Take a Toll on Teen Mental Health? Word in Black. Why Do Holidays Take a Toll on Teen Mental Health? (wordinblack.com)
Vasquez Reyes M. The Disproportional Impact of COVID-19 on African Americans. Health Hum Rights. (December 2022)22(2):299-307. PMID: 33390715; PMCID: PMC7762908.