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Black History Month: How the Black community can maintain mental health in a pandemic

Assistant Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling Dr. Michelle Mitchell will speak Feb. 22 as part of Jacksonville University’s Black History Month’s “Diversity & Discussion” speaker series. 

Her speech titled “Losing it! Mental Health and Pandemic Related Stress Among the Black Community” will focus on mental health issues caused by the pandemic and how to care for yourself in times of stress, and on a daily basis.

Dr. Mitchell joined JU as an assistant professor in 2021 from Wake Forest University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor. Her research interests include cultural considerations in counseling and student development of multicultural counseling competency 

She attended Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania for her undergraduate degree in public health, and went on to Duquesne University for a master’s degree in mental health counseling. She obtained a Ph.D from the University of Central Florida in counselor education and supervision.

WAVE caught up with Dr. Mitchell before her Feb. 22 discussion:

Why did you choose this subject to speak about?

We have all been living through challenging times since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic; however, the impact of the pandemic on the Black community has been far greater than the general population. It is important for us to be mindful and aware that some communities, namely the Black community, are experiencing the pandemic differently than the general population.

What are some mental health issues that arose from the pandemic?

There are several mental health concerns that have presented themselves since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Increased rates of depression, anxiety, severe grief reactions, and overall psychological distress are all examples of challenges that Black Americans are experiencing. While one may assume the listed mental health challenges are being experienced equally across all groups; it’s important to remember African Americans are disproportionately experiencing the effects of the pandemic. For instance, African Americans experience more severe COVID-19 infections, increased (1.5-4x higher) likelihood of hospitalizations for COVID-19 than the white population, and higher COVID-19 mortality rates. These COVID-19 related racial disparities complicate and increase the risk for mental health challenges.

What are ways to improve mental health during a pandemic?

One way to attend to and address one’s mental health, especially in a pandemic, is to engage in self-care. Self-care is a commonly used concept to promote luxurious massages and candles. However, at its core self-care is intended to be self-initiated behaviors that promote good health and well-being. Thus, an adequate amount of rest and attending to a step goal could be examples of proactive and preventative care for our bodies. Furthermore, given the many obstacles we’ve had to face during the COVID-19 pandemic, one may need to engage in discussions with a professional to help unpack their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Speaking to a professional counselor is not the same as venting with a friend or family member. For this reason, seeking counseling with a trained professional is essential now more than ever.

The national theme for Black History Month is Black Health and Wellness. Why is that an important topic to discuss?

There is an old saying in the African American community, “When white folks catch a cold, Black folks get pneumonia.” This saying articulates the vulnerability the Black community has been experiencing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and under typical societal conditions. Thus, shining a light on and identifying solutions to improve Black Health and Wellness during Black History Month is not only important, but essential to equitable engagement of our communities.