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Combating Racial and Ethnic Behavioral Health Disparities During Pandemic

Decreased baseline health and access to behavioral healthcare for Blacks and Latinos increase their risk for worsening mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has revealed deep-seated inequities in health care for communities of color and amplifies social and economic factors that contribute to poor health outcomes,” the statement says. “Given the existing impediments to care for Blacks and Latinos due to social determinants of health, the COVID-19 pandemic will place those with behavioral health problems at even higher vulnerability.”

The interplay of preexisting health inequities, including in behavioral health, and the nature of the pandemic, has created conditions in which Blacks and Latinos are at greater risk for both infection and deteriorating mental health. “Blacks and Latinos with mental health and substance use disorders are more likely to be incarcerated and homeless than the general population, placing them at increased risk for COVID-19,” the statement notes, in part because of difficulties in social distancing, hand washing, and quarantining. At the same time, the opioid epidemic continues to affect Black and Latino communities, and disruption of treatment programs over concerns for spreading infection may put those with a substance use disorder at increased risk for worsening that disorder.

SAMHSA includes a number of policy recommendations and actions being undertaken to address these issues, including increased attention to reporting of race and ethnicity in pandemic-related data reporting, increased tailoring of public health messaging to affected communities, and partnering with community organizations to maintain contact between affected individuals and the healthcare system. A list of resources is also provided.

SAMSHA. Double Jeopardy: COVID-19 and Behavioral Health Disparities for Black and Latino Communities in the U.S.

Published date: Aug. 26, 2020