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City of Albany marks Black History Month

Mayor Kathy Sheehan and The City of Albany Equity Agenda hosted a virtual a panel discussion Thursday evening on health and mental health for Black Americans.
Mayor Kathy Sheehan and The City of Albany Equity Agenda hosted a virtual a panel discussion Thursday evening on health and mental health for Black Americans.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan and The City of Albany Equity Agenda hosted a virtual a panel discussion Thursday evening on health and mental health for Black Americans.

Honoring Black History Month, the discussion covered a lot of ground, including health, stress, community violence and trauma.

Dr. Julia Hastings, an Associate Professor of Health, Policy, Management and Behavior at the University at Albany, asserted that communities of color have been particularly impacted by the coronavirus epidemic.

"The coronavirus pandemic is actually widespread and has spread fear of falling ill and dying among our population," said Hastings. "We anguish over the loss of loved ones, the destruction of our social and economic institutions, as well as our personal day to day routines. The data has consistently documented increased social isolation, increased understanding that we may not return to ways before the pandemic, and economic security. So in the short run, there's a lot of uncertainty about our lives that we had not been familiar with prior to 2020. And there's these unsettling long term effects that are kind of vague in our mindsets, because we actually don't have a plan as to what our world will look like, once we do get past the pandemic as we know it today."

Urban Grief founder Lisa Wilson Good agrees the pandemic years have been especially challenging for minorities.

"Many Black people in New York state have gone through COVID in a row boat, no covering, no protections, no protection from violence, no economic protection, no protection in the form of accessible mental health and health care," said Good.

Hastings noted that COVID's impact has been "uneven," saying Black people have suffered disproportionately in education, health, housing, businesses, social relationships, and in income, all of which she characterizes as social determinants of health and mental health.

"The Black population, it has lower median household income in the state, we have more families in poverty, fewer people earning college degrees." Hastings said "There are more adults without a regular health care provider and adults without health insurance."

Hastings says Blacks are taking their own lives at higher rates. Good warns community violence and domestic violence bring mental and physical harm.

"When I think about some of the factors that contribute to community violence as a traumatic stressor, those same factors also contribute to poor mental health, and poor health outcomes, and concentrated poverty, racism, residential segregation, lack of equal access to care, all play a role in poor mental health and poor physical health," said Good. "The lived experience of poverty alone negatively impacts a person's mental health. And so when we combine the experience of poverty, the experience of trauma, and the experience of oppression, of course the outcome is going to be violence. Of course, the outcome is going to be, you know, not just the trauma that people experience as a result of violence, but also, the serious distress that is caused by violence exposure."

Good says in communities of color, physical and mental health are intertwined, but seeking care also brings its own level of stress, anxiety and risk to one's health.

"Because when I go to the doctors, I have to think about whether or not I'm going to be treated seriously, whether I'm going to get the proper tests and be offered the same type of care that someone else who doesn't look like me would be offered," Good said. "And so when we talk about our mental health, we can't separate it."

Mayor Sheehan, a third-term Democrat, says some questioned why the city decided to talk about health.

“It's so important that we lift up the voices of the community here in Albany, because I do believe that the solutions to the challenges that we face with health disparities are within the wisdom of the community,” said Sheehan.

WATCH the panel discussion HERE.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.