What are the Effects of COVID-19 on the Mental Health of Indigenous Communities?

Saturday, July 11, 2020 - 14:27

Researchers have focused some of the mental health effects and challenges that Indigenous people face as a result of the pandemic.

According to the Medical News Today, researchers examined the racialized impact of this global pandemic, and specifically the toll that it takes on more vulnerable communities in the U.S.

As experts have pointed out, the COVID-19 data for Indigenous communities in the U.S. are reported inconsistently. This is partly due to racial misclassification.

Some states record data for Indigenous people with the groupings: “American Indian/Alaska Native,” “Native Hawaiian,” and “Other Pacific Islanders,” while other states lump them all together under the category “Other.”

This confusing way of reporting, together with the fact that the federal government does not collect data on all ethnicities and races equally across the country, makes it difficult to gauge with precision the impact that the pandemic is having on Indigenous communities in the U.S.

However, taking the still incomplete data concerning COVID-19 cases and deaths together with established information about social determinants of health in these communities indicates that the pandemic is hitting Indigenous people particularly hard.

For example, a frequently updated report by the nonpartisan American Public Media Research Lab found that Black Americans and Indigenous Americans are taking the brunt of the pandemic throughout the country.

A lack of testing and contact-tracing facilities in these communities further amplifies these disparities. Also, traditional practices involving large social gatherings to mark special events, such as harvests or coming of age ceremonies, may contribute to the spread of the virus.

The mental health of adults has also suffered due to lockdown measures. According to a recent survey by Statistics Canada, 60% of Indigenous respondents said that their mental health has become “somewhat worse” or “much worse” since measures of physical distancing were introduced.

Importantly, the new survey revealed disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations: 38% of Indigenous participants reported fair or poor mental health, compared with only 23% of non-Indigenous respondents, and 41% of Indigenous participants “reported symptoms consistent with moderate or severe anxiety,” compared with 25–27% of non-Indigenous participants.

The researcher also highlighted an important association regarding the deep roots of historical trauma among Indigenous communities. Referring to the smallpox epidemic and other outbreaks of viral infection brought to First Nations people by European settlers, Prof. McCormick said: “Now, Indigenous people are being triggered by the pandemic. Historically, there’s still that fear of epidemics.”

Prof. McCormick — who is a member of the Kanyen’kehà:ka (Mohawk) Nation — also made the point that people who provide mental healthcare to Indigenous communities should be Indigenous themselves. “They will also know what some of the more naturally occurring resources are, like support groups and people in the community who are good to talk to, like elders,” he said.


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