COVID’s Impact on Black Mental Health and Substance Use

COVID has been the culprit behind a number of stressors, including poor mental health, drug use and job loss. May marked the end of the federal COVID Public Health Emergency (PHE), but the social and economic stressors from the pandemic still linger, especially when it comes to job security, economic uncertainty and financial stress.  

Post-Pandemic Employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate rose to 14.7% in April 2020 due to offices closures, small business closings and mass layoffs. BLS also found that minorities faced higher rates of unemployment: 5% for African Americans, 2.8% for Asians, and 4.6% for Hispanics.

But, it wasn’t all gloom. Hybrid and remote work became more readily available, making work more flexible and reducing the total amount of fossil fuels used. Black-women owned businesses also grew by 18.14%, with almost 55,000 new businesses. The United States Census Bureau found that Black women helped comprise the 1.3 million employees in 2021 and generated $141.1 billion in revenue for Black businesses.  

Behavioral Addiction  

COVID was a major trigger for everyone around the world. Over a million Americans died and suffered from health, personal and financial losses.  

The idea of not knowing when it’d be safe again triggered many into isolation and negative coping mechanisms, like drug abuse, alcoholism, overspending, technology addiction, germophobia and more. These behaviors, compounded by health, social and economic uncertainties, were directly tied to the spike in the opioid crisis.

Organizations like the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men, Wells Healing Center and the Boris Lawrence foundation have worked to raise awareness and provide supportive spaces for people struggling with substance use and mental health disorders. 

If you or anyone you know is thinking about harming themselves, dial 988 to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Prevention Hotline. Their hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Mental Health 

From the start of the pandemic, uncertainty surrounding health, finances and politics were leading causes for anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. A study conducted by Frontiers in Psychology found that people in isolation, with poor health or job insecurity, faced higher rates of this psychological distress. 

Programs such as the Stay Well Community Health Initiative, Black Nurse Collaborative and We Can Do This COVID Public Education Program worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to provide free COVID vaccinations, health resources and supports reduce stress, combat misinformation and alleviate anxiety.

Below are more ways to help you feel better in the long-run: 

  • Find professional help. There are a number of therapists and treatment centers that are proven to help with improved mental health, functioning and quality of life. 
  • Get active. Do things that are meaningful to you. Connect with friends and family, try a new hobby, travel or spend some time outside. 
  • Practice self-care. Be kind to yourself and only focus on the things you can control. Avoid self-soothing with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. Find a routine that encompasses good sleep, exercise and practice healthy eating habits. 

Lastly, the Public Health Emergency is over, but using preventive measures and getting COVID vaccinations helps prevent new outbreaks and variants from developing. 

Go to or text your ZIP code to 438829 to find nearby places to get a vaccine.