In the past few years, therapy has somewhat lost its stigmatization, especially among young people. Friends and strangers alike are more openly disclosing that they go to therapy. After the COVID-19 pandemic and social uprising, we could all benefit from a good old therapy session. Therapy is one way to improve one’s mental health; our mental health directly affects our physical and overall health. Throughout history, therapy has been stigmatized in the African American community. It is beyond time to address this stigmatization and encourage our community to go to therapy. This encouragement could come in the form of free therapy.
On Twitter, Damian Barr made a post that stated, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just one oar.” This one tweet encompasses the intersectionality of race and age amid the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Center for Disease Control, out of all COVID-19 deaths, 8 out of 10 were in people 65 years old and older. One analysis of data from the CDC found that African Americans ages 65 to 74 died five times as often from COVID-19 as whites in the same age group.
Factors such as socioeconomic status, racial bias, and one’s built environment contribute to these statistics. We must remember that these statistics are real people. The disproportionate effects of COVID-19 affect the mental health, livelihood, and physical health of Black elderly Americans. I believe a contributing factor to this that is often overshadowed is the mistrust of medical professionals in the African American community.
The mistrust of physicians in the African American community has been present since this country’s inception. In slavery times, J. Mariam Sims did gynecological procedures on enslaved women without their consent and did not use anesthesia. Amidst the Jim Crow era, doctors did not treat Black men infected with syphilis to examine the disease’s progression. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment began in 1932 and ended in 1972. Black Americans, 65 years or older, would remember hearing about this study at some point in their lives.
This mistrust of health professionals can lead to Black people delaying medical treatment in general and especially during this pandemic. When my grandmother contracted COVID-19, she refused medical attention. She did not let EMS come within 10 feet of her. She even threatened to hide in the bathroom as we called 911. She had already made up her mind that she was not going to the hospital.
Throughout this global pandemic, many of the older population has been isolated. In addition to this, Black elders have witnessed a social uprising that has felt like history repeating itself. I can only imagine the mental toll that has. As a young Black medical professional in training, I’ve had days where I have barely stayed afloat, and I cannot imagine not being able to talk to my therapist. For me, therapy has been a safe place where I can express my feelings, process my trauma, and begin the journey of healing. Everyone needs healing, especially those who live in a country that fails to fully acknowledge the unique hardships of their lived experience. Elderly Black Americans deserve a place to process the trauma of COVID-19 and their lived experiences.
These past few months have tested our strength and our capacity to handle hardships. It has been a terrible storm. Black elderly Americans have arguably been hit the hardest. They deserve more than this world could ever offer, but at the very least, they deserve free therapy.
Camara Perkins is a public health student at SUNY Downstate.