The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up our worlds, infecting more than 2.9 million people around the globe and resulting in over 173,000 deaths, with numbers expected to climb. It has rattled financial markets and sunk local economies. More than 17 million Americans are now unemployed due to coronavirus. We’re living through a period filled with lots of uncertainty, and it is easy to succumb to fear, anxiety, or depression. It’s hard to stay positive when people all around the world are sick and dying. This is especially difficult for brown and black communities that are given less access to resources, but now more than ever it’s important for every Latina to prioritize her mental health.
A lot of us in the Latinx community are raised to hold things in and not talk about our feelings. Our community deeply values self-reliance and often discourages folks from opening up about their struggles or traumas. The suicide rate among Latinas has reached epidemic levels in the past few years. One in five Latinxs in the U.S. face mental health concerns and yet only 10 percent of Latinxs reach out to a mental health expert or specialist. Things like therapy, coping techniques, and prescription medication are perceived as taboo in our communities. With so many folks losing their jobs along with their health care benefits, gaining access to these kinds of resources is even harder these days, which is why it’s so important to prioritize time for self-care to keep our nerves calm and our minds sound.
“Life is always full of uncertainties however, at a time of a novel pandemic, this fact is exacerbated,” says mental health expert and psychological therapist Angelina Morales. “It’s best to approach life one step at a time. Taking in too much info or taking on too much planning can quickly become overwhelming. We don’t have all the answers but are figuring it out as we go along.”
Morales adds that feeling overwhelmed during difficult times like this is absolutely normal. This pandemic is in many ways traumatic, even for those who might not be sick or haven’t lost their jobs. In one way or another, everyone is confronting some degree of challenges right now. This is a crisis that has impacted us all.
“We are seeing the effects of shared trauma,” Morales adds. “Life is changing rapidly before our eyes, loved ones are becoming sick and some are dying. As a result, we are seeing increases in anxiety and depression. This is also exacerbated by the fact that we are in quarantine without our usual connections.”
There is also a rise in the panic that accompanies anxiety. Morales explains how anxiety can easily be worsened by the unknown.
“It is important to take stock in what you can control and focus on those things. Also, we need to accept that some days will be good and some will be bad, just as when life was normal. We can’t get caught up in being too hard on ourselves — especially now.”
How to Handle Uncertainty
“When we are going through challenging moments, I always remind people to get familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” says Brandie Carlos, the founder of Therapy for Latinx, a technology-based organization that works with licensed therapists across the country to provide mental health resources for the Latinx community. “He created a hierarchy of human needs starting with the most basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid and building up. So the first is physiological, so making sure you have shelter, food, water, and sleep. Without these being met, it’s hard to do anything. Once you have this, you can work on employment and social stability. After that, you focus on love and belonging which includes friendships, intimacy, and a sense of connection. With these needs being met you now have a solid foundation to work on your self-esteem and self-actualization.”
The pandemic has hit communities of color the hardest. We have seen a lot of these health disparities among Latinxs. In fact, according to Pew Research, Latinxs are more likely to be hit the hardest health-wise and financially than other Americans as a result of the coronavirus. With many Latinxs working in the leisure, hospitality, and service industries, many are predicted — if they haven’t already — to lose their jobs and are less likely to have health insurance. The survey also found that Latinxs might be financially more vulnerable than other Americans if the coronavirus results in them losing their jobs.
“Around two-thirds of employed Hispanic adults (66%) say they would not get paid if the coronavirus caused them to miss work for two weeks or more, including about half (47%) who say it would be difficult to meet expenses during this time,” the survey states.
“The Latinx community may be the hardest hit of this pandemic, particularly when considering those in our community that are undocumented,” says Morales. “We can help them and ourselves by choosing what specific ways we can help. When we think of all that needs to be done it can be very overwhelming. However, if we focus on one or two ways we can help and contribute that can offset the feeling of helplessness.”
“We have to be honest, this is an unprecedented time and for communities of color the impact is even harder,” Carlos adds. “There will be times that you do feel overwhelmed and it’s okay. When it does happen, be compassionate with yourself. Take a nap or go for a walk. Drink some water. Crying or screaming into a pillow sometimes is the release our body needs. Once you feel composed or able to jump back in, I would suggest first looking into all the resources and grants that are available. There are even organizations that are helping families get laptops, internet connection, and cell phones. This isn’t a time to be prideful, accept the support you can find. Many of us have paid taxes for years and have never received any form of aid. Start with your basic needs and those of your family and then scale up. Look into your rights as a tenant and employer, this isn’t a time to be coy. Ask questions, get clarity, and receive all agreements in writing. When you can delegate, reach out to friends, call your local state hotline for support.”
The lack of socializing during quarantine can be especially hard on Latinx families who are used to getting together and are also used to embracing one another with bear hugs and kisses. That’s how we’ve always rolled. Journalist and Usui Reiki master and teacher, Zayda Rivera stresses the importance of staying connected with family as much as possible right now.
Keep Social Ties Strong
“Staying in touch with the elders in our family is of utmost importance, especially during times like these,” Rivera says. “A FaceTime chat can go a long way. Try scheduling a chat with an elder you love on a daily basis or every other day, just for a quick check-in and maybe a few laughs. This gives people something to look forward to and promotes happiness.”
Rivera also suggests the importance of balance right now, with what we should be doing and what we should be limiting ourselves to, which in this case of COVID-19, could be as simple as not being on top of the news all day, every day.
“Please tell them to shut off the news,” she adds. “It is fine to check in on the daily headlines to keep abreast of what’s going on, but having the news on all day, even if they aren’t directly watching it but have it playing in the background, can be toxic to mental health. If all you hear all day is negative information or sad stories, it will reflect on your mood and you may even feel sluggish and irritated because of it.”
“Try your best to focus on what you can control instead of what you can’t,” Rivera says. “It’s likely that you can’t control having to stay home instead of going to work. But you can control taking steps to ensure you will be okay during this time, like applying for unemployment or calling your bill collectors to see what services they are offering customers whose jobs have been impacted by COVID-19. even before doing these tasks, take a few deep cleansing breaths and if you are spiritual, say a prayer and call on your spirit guides to help guide you toward a positive outcome.”
Rivera also recommends doing calming activities like meditating or taking baths — especially now that so many of us are home and have significantly more time on our hands. It’s a great way to keep our minds from spiraling into anxiety.
If you still are fortunate to have health care insurance, look into scheduling weekly calls with your therapist. With the current quarantine, many therapists are doing appointments with their patients over the phone. If you had a therapist but lost your insurance due to being laid off or furloughed, talk to your therapist about working out a payment plan.
“Many therapists offer sliding scale fees, which is adjusted based on individual circumstances,” Morales says. “Given the growing difficulties of our current society, many therapists are chipping in by offering free or reduced mental health. At this time all or most mental health professionals are providing services via telehealth. Cities are also setting up crisis lines for those impacted by COVID-19. It is encouraging to see the emphasis being placed on mental health as the world faces a shared trauma.”
“If you lose your insurance due to being laid off, by law you have the right to that policy for up to 18 months via COBRA but you do have to pay the entire bill instead of a portion of it being paid by your employer,” Carlos says. “You can also apply for health insurance via your state marketplace. If your income is too low to pay for a policy, they’ll offer you a policy via your state medical. Other options for therapists are an amazing collective called Open Path Collective, which offers sliding scale options to see mental health care providers. You can also lookup NAMI and many support groups have transitioned to online meetings. The last thing I would recommend is keeping an eye out on social media. I saw a lot of therapists offering free or low-cost services for people affected by COVID-19 or first responders. No matter how hard things get I promise there is a resource available to help.”