The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on the mental health of Black British Columbians, analysis of new data suggests.
Jennifer Migabo, advocacy co-lead for Black Physicians of B.C. and fourth-year UBC medical student, pulled the findings from data captured in a recent, extensive survey conducted by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
The BCCDC SPEAK survey collected data from more than 188,000 British Columbians, including ethnicity, which Migabo said allowed researchers to probe the effects of the pandemic on specific groups.
“The reason we set out to do this study is because we know Black Canadians are underrepresented in healthcare in Canada, (and) specifically under-represented in voluntary mental health services such as outpatient therapy,” she said.
“Paradoxically they are over-represented in involuntary psychiatric settings such as imprisonment, police escort to hospital, etc.”
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The data, Migabo said, reveals noticeable differences between the pandemic’s effect on Black and non-Black British Columbians.
The percentage of Black respondents who described their mental health as excellent or very good, 57.5 per cent, was 10 plus per cent lower than non-Black respondents.
At the same time, the percentage of Black respondents who said their mental health had worsened over the course of the pandemic, 60.3 per cent, was about three per cent higher than non-Black respondents.
Black respondents were also 10 per cent more likely to describe their mental health as “stressed,” and more likely to describe themselves as lonely or having a weak sense of community belonging.
Nearly one in three Black respondents said their job situation worsened over the pandemic, compared to one in five non-Black respondents. More than one in 10 said the same about their housing situation, compared to one in 20 non-Black respondents.
Canadian institutions have not traditionally collected race-based data, Migabo said. The BCCDC dataset, she said, shows how critical that data can be.
“These are things that people in the Black community have known for a while, but without explicit data it’s hard to act on them,” Migabo said.
“I think when people see these results, there will maybe be more emphasis on creating mental health initiatives specifically for the Black or other racialized communities.”
Modupeoluwa Bankole-Longe, a researcher with Vancouver’s Hogan’s Alley Society who has been studying vaccine uptake and opinion, agreed.
“That’s when we understand the impact of racism, the impact of systemic racism on the Black community,” she said.
Bankole-Longe said one of the things that stood out to her as she collected data from members of the Black community was a sense of weariness and distrust in government.
Many, she said, felt like the information was being collected, but would then be shelved.
“They felt like the government keeps collecting findings from them answers from them but they don’t do anything with the findings.”
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“You have to engage with the Black community and share the results with them, share the findings with them, and at the same time create policies that are actionable. You make sure there’s an effect based on the findings.”
Migabo said she had strong hopes the data analyzed from the BCCDC study could be put to work.
Hard data, she said, provides a valuable jumping off point for helping to break the stigma on mental health issues in the Black community.
It also points to the need for more access to and education about mental health services that are available.
“Hopefully this research will be used by public health leaders in the province to create some of those initiatives,” she said.
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