By now, most people around the world know about the novel coronavirus and its physical health effects. But little has been said about some other symptoms that might be affecting the population – meaning, the effect the coronavirus is having on our mental health. Self-isolation, working during the pandemic, surviving the coronavirus, or losing a loved one due to the coronavirus can lead to many mental health issues, or worsen them for those who already suffer from a mental health problem.
People handle situations in many different ways, and this pandemic is not affecting everyone equally. The CDC states that “long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put some members of racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age.” Simply being Hispanic or Latinx automatically makes you four times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than someone who is white / non-Hispanic. If a farmworker is American Indian, Alaska Native, or African American, that rate goes up to five times as likely. (According to NAWS, 83% of Farmworkers report being from a Latinx background, 6% identify as indigenous, 3% identify as Black or African American, and 1% are Alaska Native or American Indian.)
And that’s not all. According to the CDC, those whose mental health may be the most impacted by stress are frontline health workers; essential workers; those in the high-risk categories for COVID-19; people who have had changes in their employment; those who are socially isolated; and/or those do not have access to knowledge about the pandemic in their native language. Last we checked, farmworkers fit into several of those categories, and yet they simultaneously suffer from a lack of access to healthcare. In a study titled “Health Care Utilization among Migrant Latino Farmworkers”, it was noted that barriers such as lack of transportation, documentation, and Spanish-language clinics or doctors prevent farmworkers from seeking treatment for skin disease.
There are other challenges, too. The National Center for Farmworker Health states that “poor mental health may be especially difficult to identify, treat, and overcome among agricultural workers, who face multiple challenges including language barriers, poor access to health insurance, and high rates of poverty.” In addition, mental health issues can also be very stigmatized, which leads to under-reporting. The NCFH reports that “Latina women, for example, are more likely than White or Black women to endorse feeling embarrassed about discussing personal issues, fearing what others may think, or believing family members may think they are crazy.”
Despite the stigmatization, however, data still shows us that mental health issues are very prevalent in the farmworker community. In a study of farmworker women in North Carolina by Pulgar, C., et. al., almost a third (31.3%) of all women reported significant depressive symptoms, which is “three times the depression rates in the US household female population (9.3%), as well as the general Hispanic population (11.4%).”
We are not mental health professionals; however, we would like to share a few tips recommended by experts on how to prevent or mitigate suffering from a mental health illness such as depression, anxiety, etc. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) makes the following recommendations:
- If you are currently in mental health treatment, continue with your current plan if possible, being mindful of approaches to minimize contact with others. Consider reaching out to a mental health professional even if you haven’t before. Make sure you have ongoing access to any medications you need.
- Ask about video therapy or phone call appointments. Most states have already made emergency exemptions to insurance coverage for telehealth. Regulations have been temporarily relaxed to allow even non-medical software like Skype, Facetime, and Zoom to be used for telehealth. Even if this option wasn’t available with your provider previously, it may be now! Contact them to ask about remote services.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol, particularly if you have a pre-existing mental health or substance use disorder. Check out online support groups and meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, and In The Rooms.
- The need for social distancing may make it difficult to see symptoms of depression in others. In “hunker-down” mode, the in-person opportunities that we usually have to notice that friends, family, and colleagues may be struggling with a problem are no longer there. One way to think about it is that child abuse or intimate partner violence is missed more often in winter because long clothes cover bruises. Conduct regular “check ins” with your network and stay attuned to symptoms of depression, such as persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, or changes in sleep and weight.
Other ways to help prevent a mental illness is to work on your physical health. Here are some things you can do.
- Sleeping well is essential since it supports your immune system and can help manage stress and control your emotions.
- Eating nutritious food at regular times can help.
- Exercising can help reduce and relieve stress, depression, and anxiety.
AFOP Health & Safety is committed to narrowing the health gap by going out into farmworker communities and providing life-saving information that can help farmworkers take charge of their own health. Just last week we conducted heat stress prevention trainings in multiple states, in outdoor locations with face masks/shields. At times, our trainers saw immediately that farmworkers did not even own any masks, so they passed out free masks before the training proceeded any further. Farmworkers are some of the most overlooked and forgotten workers, taken advantage of even when they’re the most needed. We are here to help change that.