by Minister of Information JR Valrey, SF Bay View Oakland Bureau
We are only months away from the two-year anniversary of the pandemic lockdowns, and politicians and residents are trying to figure out why a crime wave has been sweeping California and the U.S. I’m not talking about the corporate crime wave that’s helping Big Pharma profit in the billions and is also violating the civil and human rights of people by mandating that they get the Covid vaccines and boosters to be able to make a living for their families or to even socialize in society. I am talking about the increasing level of crime in society, which includes murders, home invasions, robberies, burglaries, car thefts, drug dealing and more.
Local politicians and the mainstream media are blaming the mayhem on last year’s national campaign to defund the police, as if the police stop crimes, which they don’t. They respond to them when they are not committing them.
No one in Oakland who has a media platform is talking about the pandemic-driven collapsing of the economy and how that affects the people at the bottom rungs of the society. I wanted to talk to a therapist about her views on what the pandemic is doing to the Black working class, as well as those that survive on government assistance or off of the streets.
I wanted her to talk about the new psychological factors that people have had to deal with because of the pandemic, in addition to the stresses of being Black in racist U.S. society. Therapist Tia Barnes has been working throughout the pandemic and is on the frontlines in understanding what the pandemic has been doing to us as a Black community. Check her out in her own words.
JR Valrey: How would you compare the mental health of Black people before the pandemic versus during the pandemic?
Tia Barnes: Currently, there haven’t been enough longitudinal studies done to assess mental health due to the fact that we’re still in the middle of the pandemic. Until the pandemic – or at least the impact of the pandemic – is over, we won’t be able to survey individuals in regards to post-Covid mental health outcomes.
However, current studies actually show that Black people in America are faring better than their white counterparts in regards to stress and anxiety. However, due to societal disparities in regards to community resources and access to mental health services, I would believe we report at a disproportionately lower number than individuals with medical insurance and healthcare.
The question of irony in regard to this has arisen in Black mental health communities; could the variance in stress level and anxiety be due to the fact that our white counterparts aren’t accustomed to conformity and lack of privilege and are therefore “suffering” increased angst due to this necessity during the pandemic?
We have to find it worthwhile to take the time once a week to give ourselves an hour to express how we feel.
JR Valrey: What can be done to ease the expanding mental health crisis in the Black community that is being exacerbated by the pandemic?
Tia Barnes: We really need to keep encouraging people to access mental health resources. There are many agencies within our community that are providing mental health services for free or sliding scale. We have to find it worthwhile to take the time once a week to give ourselves an hour to express how we feel.
We also have to see the distress and anxiety in our children and make it a priority to address any trauma that may stem from that sooner than later. Also, we have to work to re-integrate and socialize at a pace that’s comfortable for you, while you maintain values important to you and your family.
JR Valrey: How did Black students deal with distance learning versus how they are dealing with in-person schooling during the pandemic?
Tia Barnes: Black students as a whole traditionally fare worse in educational environments in regards to access to appropriate resources, educational assessments, as well as behavioral assessments. The pandemic exposed how vast the disparity truly is when resources such as Internet and Wi-Fi are not as common in Black and Brown homes as they are for our counterparts.
Due to this variation in access to the Internet, students’ access to educational support was limited, during a time in which teachers and students were both struggling to maintain and balance stress and anxiety due to the new environment and responsibilities. Many parents also working entry level positions were still working and at times were unable to adequately assist children navigating distance learning while home alone, or with multiple children.
Children who already experience anxiety and uncertainty are more prone to having a significant increase in those symptoms.
The onus of responsibility for a child’s academic production often falls solely on the shoulders of the children. Children who are at home in households that have an income lower than the national poverty level showed significantly less rates of attendance as well as increased stress and anxiety around required coursework. It was devastating to the educational progress of many of our students, not to mention the negative impact on their self-esteem and self-narrative as far as their educational abilities.
JR Valrey: How are children affected psychologically by being in schools that have Covid outbreaks every few weeks?
Tia Barnes: For some children going back into the classroom will create separation anxiety from being with their family and close ones for a significant period of time. Leaving home now may cause significant stress. Also children may naturally have anxiety in regards to possibly catching Covid-19 while in school, which could also add to their level of stress and anxiety.
The best thing we can do as parents and family is to continue to validate their feelings and ask questions about how school is going. Be mindful that grades and earlier successes may now look different as children begin to assimilate back into a “normal” school environment.
Some children will navigate going back to school with excitement due to being away from their social group for so long; however, children who already experience anxiety and uncertainty are more prone to having a significant increase in those symptoms. Also we should be modeling effective behavior and expressing to our children some of our concerns and anxieties in regards to Covid.
JR Valrey: How has the pandemic affected marital relationships and parental relationships in the Black community?
Tia Barnes: In my opinion Covid has exposed the interwoven strands of relationships and parenting that we often don’t get to see. In reality, many of us only spend around seven or eight hours a day with our family. Parents and children in some cases leave for work as early as 7:00 a.m. and don’t return home until after 5:00 p.m., then perform the routine norms, and then we go to bed for eight hours. We wake up and go through this routine daily, without thought.
It becomes a lose-lose situation when a person is forced to decide between self-sufficiency and self-advocacy.
However, once the pandemic hit and we were all mandated to stay home with family and also not to socialize with other people outside of our family unit, it definitely exposed some of our weaknesses as well as some of our strengths within our family units. People who find that they don’t have great communication skills and aren’t as solution oriented as other couples may definitely face relational strain. Domestic violence, suicide rates, depression and anxiety all showed significant increases due to our confinement.
JR Valrey: What are some of the new challenges that people are facing?
Tia Barnes: People are now facing the challenge of determining whether their relationship is as long standing as they previously thought. Also, they are learning to navigate through effective communication and parenting in ways we’ve never had to experience before. That’s been a challenge especially for single mothers and people with multiple children. The family unit saw increased strain due to so many variables that can impact us in so many different ways.
JR Valrey: What have been some of the common issues that clients have regularly been talking to you about recently?
Tia Barnes: Many clients present with relational issues and concerns from having been in the house with their partner for over 18 months and some of the relational norms and concerns that have been created by spending so much time with someone. Also, I have seen a significant increase in relapse for those who suffer from substance addiction due to the increase in stress and anxiety during Covid and the utilizing of drugs as a coping mechanism and strategy.
Lastly, There’s been a significant increase in mental health disorders and their presentation during Covid. Many people who are faced with the stress and anxiety of Covid, who are already experiencing underlying mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed, are now facing increased mental health issues that could be life-long without treatment.
JR Valrey: Are you still seeing clients in person or do you just meet with patients online? Why?
Tia Barnes: I’m only seeing clients online. Due to the pandemic, I was forced to transition from a brick and mortar agency to a completely online process. Initially, I was concerned about the efficacy of therapy solely online; however, I’ve experienced success while working with clients online.
We should recognize systemic racism is ingrained in all American systems, hence why many Black and Brown people have PTSD and trauma that stems directly from racism.
So much so that I’ve permanently transitioned to online services, so that I could actually serve a greater population of people within the state of California. As long as I find that the services I provide can be adequately and effectively done online, I’ll continue to manage my practice in this way.
JR Valrey: How are people reacting to the government and corporations forcing people to get the Covid vaccinations or risk being fired?
Tia Barnes: Many people that I’ve worked with are actually giving in and succumbing to the mandate to vaccinate. It has become a constant conversation within sessions, the merging between church and state, and people having the civil rights to not vaccinate and still be able to work and provide for themselves and their families.
It becomes a lose-lose situation when a person is forced to decide between self-sufficiency and self-advocacy. It has created extreme anxiety and worry for the working class and has also increased substance abuse due to lack of other coping strategies and hopelessness.
JR Valrey: What is your analysis of the Hate Crime Index for 2020 being released and stating that the rate of hate crimes on Black people is two or three times higher than hate crimes on the Asian community, although the mainstream media acted like Asians were the biggest victims of hate crimes in the U.S. in 2020, although it is the Black community?
Historically, crimes against Black people have been underreported or not reported at all.
Tia Barnes: My simple reply would be that Black people have historically been viewed as less than human and therefore less deserving of humanity. Historically, crimes against Black people have been underreported or not reported at all, especially when perpetrated by offenders of other races.
Asians have also been subjected to similar oppressive regimens that Black people have experienced. However, in America under the guise of white supremacy, Asians flourished as middlemen minorities, where they live in between the dominant groups (whites) and subordinate groups (Black and Brown folks).
White supremacy is shaped around futile arguments of craniometry, eugenics and also skin color and darkness. By placing those who are of darker complexion at the bottom of the hierarchy, they are considered undesirable, degenerate and closest to our animal counterparts, hence the constant correlation to monkeys when being verbally aggressive to Black people.
Based on these facts, we shouldn’t be surprised at the heightened awareness of Asian hate crime due to most of the offenders being portrayed as African American, thereby furthering the divide between the two communities. Mainstream media is managed by conglomerates that support white supremacy. We should recognize systemic racism is ingrained in all American systems, hence why many Black and Brown people have PTSD and trauma that stems directly from racism.
JR Valrey: What are some steps that people can take to protect their mental health and the mental health of their families in these trying times?
Tia Barnes: My suggestion would be for individuals and families as a whole to at times disconnect. Many of the things that we see or digest from social media or television have an impact not only on our mental health, but our overall outlook on the world. It has the impact and the ability to create ongoing anxiety and stress, if we don’t learn how to detach from these information sources.
We are solely responsible for mental health and we have to be aware of some of the triggers that have become so normal that we don’t recognize them anymore. I also want to suggest that we look into local mental health agencies that offer groups, individual therapy sessions, or any kind of therapeutic support on a sliding scale that allows us to treat some of our traumas, so that we can avoid passing them down to our children and their children, like our parents did.
JR Valrey: How could people get in touch with your business? How can people keep up with you online?
Tia Barnes: My business can be found on Psychology Today by searching my full name, Tia Barnes; my website and information will be provided there. The link is https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/tiabarnes.
You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking engagements, trainings and other engagements as well.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.