The global pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities for the black and Latino populations, putting them at heightened risk for physical and mental health issues.

The coronavirus outbreak has impacted people across the country, but communities of color have been hit especially hard. Longstanding health inequities stemming from structural racism have enabled COVID-19 to take a devastating toll on black and Latino Americans, writes Dwayne Proctor, senior adviser to the president, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a blog post for the philanthropic organization. The influence the pandemic has on mental health for black and Latino populations has been frequently overlooked.

Proctor interviewed Yolo Akili Robinson, executive director and founder, Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) about the issue, who notes that lack of access to testing and fear of profiling while wearing a face mask are just some of the stressors communities of color face every day. “We must acknowledge the historic causes of mental health challenges: the legacy of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, economic stressors, and systemic failures that contribute to our mental health struggles. Adding COVID-19 has greatly amplified this distress,” Robinson says.

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The heightened stress has caused an increase in depression and isolation, notes Robinson, as well as worsened mental conditions such as bipolar or anxiety disorders. BEAM’s community partners have witnessed the direct impact as well, with domestic shelters reporting an increase in calls related to intimate partner violence or hostile home environments. To curb feelings of isolation and educate peers and families with tools to maintain stress, BEAM has started offering their services online through Instagram Live, Facebook drop-ins, and telephone conversations.

But the increase in demand has also caused stress and strain on the community-based organization (CBO) staff who are already overworked and under-resourced. CBOs are critical to help these vulnerable populations through the health crisis. Robinson encourages CBO staff to prioritize self-care, and seek virtual support from other organizers, and find a practice that will ground and center them so they can continue their important work.

Editor’s note: Click here to read Robinson’s full interview with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation