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Policy Experts Discuss Supporting Young People of Color's Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The School of Public Health hosted an online panel examining how to support young people of color during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The School of Public Health hosted an online panel examining how to support young people of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. By Melanie Y. Fu
By Omar Abdel Haq and Davin W. Shi, Contributing Writers

A panel of experts in psychiatry, business, and leadership development discussed the complexities of supporting the mental health of young people of color in the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic at a School of Public Health event Tuesday.

The event, titled “Innovating in the Workplace: Supporting Mental Health of a Young People of Color During COVID-19 and Beyond,” marks the latest installment in the School of Public Health’s “Policy Controversies” series. The School of Public Health’s The Forum partnered with the Steve Fund and GBH News to host the online event.

Phillip W. Martin, a senior investigative reporter at the GBH News Center, moderated the event.

Panelists included Linda Akutagawa, president and CEO of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics; Damien A. Hooper-Campbell, the chief diversity officer at Zoom; Joan Steinberg, president of the Morgan Stanley Foundation; and Sarah Y. Vinson, founder of the Lorio Psych Group and associate professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

The online event highlighted the Steve Fund’s analysis of data on the mental health of young people of color during the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking about the data, Martin said that “according to the CDC, 30 percent of Black and 35 percent of Hispanic people polled reported experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress-related disorders like PTSD as a result of the pandemic.”

Martin added that current events such as recent incidences of police brutality also played a role in exacerbating the anxieties that people of color experience.

Panelists also discussed objectives companies should meet to support and accommodate new employees — especially employees of color.

Vinson said employers can foster diversity by developing a specific mindset. She said they should be “thinking about the fact that it’s not just one box, but that each person brings these different categories and that there’s interplay between them.”

From there, Vinson said, employers should find ways to get to know their employees “and then support them in a way that makes sense for them from an intersectional standpoint.”

“In this time, there are already so many problems with our economic situation in terms of everyone entering the workforce, but students of color, of course, face particular challenges and inequities that are just exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Lisa Mirowitz, the Executive Producer and Director of the Leadership Studio at the School of Public Health, who helped organize the event.

In an interview before the event, Akutagawa discussed the importance of the panel's topic.

“Mental health is an issue that is oftentimes not spoken about,” she said. “Relative to many other people, we find that particularly young adults of color are less likely to speak about mental health issues, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”

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School of Public HealthMental HealthCoronavirus