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OP-ED: Prioritizing the mental health of Black women must be part of the post-pandemic strategy

Women’s History Month was a bittersweet feeling last year (March 2021) but this year we have a chance to change that with March 2022 and the close of Black History month fast approaching. Certainly, we celebrate phenomenal women who help our country get on the other side of the pandemic, like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the key scientist behind the Moderna vaccine. We salute the mothers who are getting their children through new ways of learning that educators themselves are still trying to figure out. We’re humbled by women working on the front lines, who after long hours return home to tend to their own families. But as we reach another anniversary of the first shutdowns, we’re sadly reminded of the thousands of matriarchs and daughters we have lost to COVID-19, and whose families are left to deal with the grueling impact of their deaths.

The pandemic has taken a unique toll on Black women, especially those in the health care industry. Black women make up the majority of workers in nursing homes where they serve as certified nursing assistants and support staff. Because of the nature of their work, they have paid a tremendous price caring for the most susceptible patients. As a former CNA, I empathize with them. As the owner of a New York Licensed Home Care Services Agency and two assisted living facilities, I share with them the incredible burden of being the backbone of the health care system, as well as their families.

While efforts are continuously underway through the federal government and in states to ensure equitable access to the COVID vaccine and boosters, it’s equally important to provide mental health resources for Black women. They’re dealing with a laundry list of additional burdens brought on by the pandemic including job loss and housing insecurity at rates disproportionately higher than other groups. They need help learning how to cope with these losses, manage their anxiety and overcome feeling burned out. The long-standing negative stigma around mental health remains complicated for Black women to reach out to professionals for mental health help. But what has been deemed taboo for African Americans is adding another detrimental layer for a group that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Now more than ever, it’s time to end the stigma.

Putting cultural stigmas aside, many of us just don’t know how to overcome difficult situations. Before COVID-19 many of us never had to deal with such extreme adversities. Resilience is learning that even though we face adversities, we are able to develop strategies that will allow us to combat those adversities, cope and become stronger individuals.

One of the ways to overcome stressors and day-to-day trauma is through resiliency-building programs. My home health care agency, Tender Loving Family Care, Inc., is enrolled in TLC Virtual Resiliency’s programs. Through live, virtual sessions led by mental health professionals, my staff, which is made up mostly of Black women, is being armed with a mental shield of armor previously foreign and inaccessible to them. What I’m seeing is a decrease in anxiety and a more productive staff because the strategies they’re learning is making them more at ease.

A key aspect of building resilience is normalizing mental health discussions in order to help individuals recognize that caring for mental health doesn’t need to feel any more shameful than receiving care for a physical problem. For Black women, building resilience will be key to creating a mental health toolbox for a post-pandemic future.

Annika Kazembe (formerly known as Annika D’Andrea) is the founder and CEO of Tender Loving Family, Inc., a New York state licensed home health care organization and TLC Virtual Resiliency, a group-based, virtual, custom wellness and resiliency-building program.

This article was written by Annika Kazembe ( Formerly known as Annika D’Andrea) and has been updated to reflect current changes. The original article can be found on Amsterdam News!