Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

A woman waits at a bus station on 125th Street in Harlem. The pandemic has led to increased mental health issues for people of color. Photo by Thomas Hengge

Rosa Gil, Founder of Comunilife, a non profit organization that assists vulnerable communities, has seen how the pandemic has affected the Latinx community she works with. A lot of the families she assists have lost their jobs and cannot seek assistance due to their migrant status.  

“Eighty-nine percent of the families of these Latina adolescents lost their jobs because of Covid,” said Gil. “The majority of these families are undocumented, so although they lost their jobs, they cannot file for unemployment because they are not documented, they don’t have legal papers. So basically, the financial challenges of these families created by Covid is tremendous.” 

 Latinx, Black and Asian Americans have been the hardest hit throughout the pandemic. But Latinos are not only struggling with higher infection and hospitalization rates due to Covid-19, but also, economic vulnerability and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. 

A recent poll conducted by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene(DOHMH), showed that Latinx New Yorkers have more risk factors that lead to mental health issues and substance use. Among these factors are feeling distant from other people, job loss and financial stress.

In a virtual meeting hosted by the NYC Council Committee on Mental Health Disabilities and Addiction yesterday, Dr. Hillary Kunins,the DOHMH acting Executive Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene, spoke about how these issues affect the mental health of members of minority communities. 

“These are factors that can lead to or be associated with mental health symptoms or outcomes,” said Kunins. 

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a press release in which Dr. Kunins spoke about the vulnerability of communities of color amidst the pandemic and ways the city is actively offering solutions to address this issue. 

“New Yorkers, and particularly communities of color, are facing unprecedented challenges that are understandably affecting their emotional and mental health,”  Kunins said in the release “We continue to provide education and support to these communities, including through our COVID-19 Community Conversations.” 

The community conversations  also focuses on  issues like structural racism and trauma and how to cope with the effect these different factors have on the mental health and stability of these communities. 

The economic unrest that has targeted minorities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has produced triggers that potentially lead to mental health issues and substance use.

Diana Padilla, a Research Project Manager for the Northeast & Caribbean Addiction Technology Transfer Center,  has seen how, the economic uncertainty produced by the pandemic, has created additional stressors for Latinx families. 

Most minorities do not have the resources or flexibility to shelter in place or enough savings to get by if they lose their jobs which leaves them no option but to continue to go to work. 

“A lot of these folks are people who have the kind of jobs that if they don’t show they don’t get paid,” said Padilla “They go to work because they can’t afford to not go to work.”

Although the DOHMH has created different programs to provide support to those who are seeking assistance to treat mental health issues, like NYC Well, this does not ensure that all who require it have access to it. For minorities, this is a problem, now that everything has shifted to a virtual setting, it leaves them little to no choice when searching for help.

“When you think about folks who have minimal income and just enough to prioritize the food and not necessarily have an expensive phone where they can do telemedicine appointments or receive the access they need for medications for a mental health issue,” said Padilla.

These factors leave vulnerable groups little to no choice but to continue to cope with the stressors that come with their everyday lives but have been aggravated due to the pandemic, she said.


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