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  • Jane McKinney

Addressing the rise in mental health concerns

The pandemic and subsequent economic uncertainty has had an astounding and negative impact on our individual and collective mental health. To put this into perspective, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data on screening results for anxiety and depression during the pandemic from April 23, 2020, through the week of May 26, 2020. The results show an upward trend in anxiety and depressive symptoms in the United States for each week reported. By the last week reported—May 21-26—over 24% of respondents said they had depressive symptoms, representing a four-fold increase compared to 6.6% reported from January - June of 2019. All age groups have been affected, but the 18-29-year-old group reports the highest rates of depressive symptoms with 36.7%, on average.

And then, on May 25, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer.

Two weeks later, protests for social justice and racial equality continue. The pandemic no longer dominates our attention like it did up to May 25. Something more pernicious than coronavirus demands our consideration: systemic racism. Unrelenting demand for change may be the antidote to our collective depression. From a mental health perspective, here’s why: Our behavior affects depression. 

The CDC report shows the following groups rank highest for symptoms of a depressive disorder throughout the period of April 23 - May 26 (by highest % reported):

  • African-Americans (“Non-Hispanic, black, single race”) - 28.5%

  • Hispanic or Latino - 29.4%

  • Other, non-Asian people of color (“Non-Hispanic, other races, and multiple races”) - 33.0%

Causes of depression are multi-determinate, including a mix of genetic, environmental, psycho-social, and psychological factors. It should not be surprising that women suffer depression at twice the rate of men; and African-Americans and people of color report more symptoms of depression than white people. People of color and women as a group control fewer of the resources and experience fewer rewards than white men. Moreover, white privilege creates a drift for the white majority to ignore the continual suffering of Black Americans and other ethnicities who are systemically (institutionally, legislatively, etc.) prevented from accessing the rewards enjoyed by a white majority. White privilege stokes white supremacy.

Our joint, multi-ethnic, focused attention on the problem of white supremacy—the driving force behind social and economic injustice—can address the disparity of control of the means and the rewards. Individuals and groups must persist in making new demands for legislative changes to bring about social and economic justice. Protesting is the beginning of this effort, but it cannot be the end.

Be well,




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