From left, top: Al McFarlane, host of The Conversation, and BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, Ph.D, LP. Bottom: Shirlynn LaChapelle, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner, and Dr. Laura Smith, psychologist and director of training and early childhood services. – The Dallas Examier screenshot/NNPA video

(The Dallas Examiner) – COVID-19 and long COVID have impacted the Black community disproportionately, adding more disparities to a community already impacted by health inequalities. Among those disparities has been mental health, according to Shirlynn LaChapelle, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner.

She was one of several speakers discussing the marginalization of the Black community and the multifaceted challenges faced by individuals and families impacted by long COVID during The Conversation, a Facebook Live program hosted by Al McFarlane and presented by the National Newspaper Publishers Association. The discussion was titled, “Long COVID and its Mental Impact on the Black Community.” BraVada Garrett-Akinsanya, Ph.D, LP, guided the discussion. The speakers were LaChapelle and Dr. Laura Smith, psychologist and director of training and early childhood services.

She said the social determinants of health and systemic racism contribute to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and long COVID on the Black community.

“Upon reading a lot of the research, what I gleaned from that had a lot to do with the social determinants of health as suffered by our community and the people within – systemic racism, the lack of adequate employment, the lack of adequate health care or health care that we feel safe enough to access, or the mistrust that we have in the system itself,” LaChapelle said.

She also identified over-policing and police violence in the Black communities has contributed to a heightened sense of anxiety and mistrust. Instead, those that are supposed to serve and protect has contributed to the damaging said of mental illness in the community.

“How can you be healthy when you’re stressed? You don’t have things that you need and you’re in fear most of the time and those stress hormones hitting your body, your brain, your heart and other body organs take their toll to the point that medication may not work as meant to.”

Long COVID is a set of persistent symptoms following relatively mild COVID-19 infections.

Some people who had very mild cases of COVID but then rebounded have suffered more severe cases months later. However, initially, the medical community did not take the symptoms seriously until more research was conducted.

“They may come up with these strange symptoms where they might become short of breath ….” LaChapelle said. “There are all kinds of things that occur with long COVID. And that’s because COVID attacks every organ in the body and the brain is an organ, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the pancreas and the skin is an organ.”

She also discussed multi-system inflammation that was first discovered in infants who had recovered from COVID-19. It was later discovered that adults also suffered from the condition. She explained that the person may have difficulty breathing due to excess fluid in the lungs. It could also impact the function of their heart. The inflammation itself could cause blood flow restriction, which could cause blood clotting. If the blood clot breaks loose, it could flow to the brain and cause a stroke.

She urged caution and emphasized the need for vaccinations. For those who has stated they didn’t need a vaccine, they don’t know what’s in it or didn’t want to put that “poison” in their body, she advised they should be more concerned about contracting COVID-19 and possibly long COVID or multi-system inflammation.

To encourage the Black community to embrace the vaccine, she said people need to continue talking about it, rather than pretending it is over.

COVID-19 and long COVID, has had a massive mental toll for some. Smith stressed some of the devastating psychological effects COVID has had on children and adults.

“There’s a lot of risk factors in COVID and long COVID,” she said. “I will say, for adults but also kids as well too. Through research, a lot has shown that there’s an increased risk for traumatic stress, and also grief and loss. A lot of research has pointed to a range of different emotional reactions to long COVID, including anxiety, depression, again grief and also even suicidal ideation.”

Smith said the pandemic has created a great deal of devastation for many individuals, especially those who have lost loved ones. For some, there have been multiple factors that have led to mental health disorders. Moreover, children are the most vulnerable group impacted by mental health issues. However, people with a history of mental health illnesses would also be vulnerable.

Additionally, being part of a community of color has exacerbated the impact of mental health issues.

Smith discussed the importance of seeking help from a trained professional. She wanted to normalize emotions, mental health and treatment. She expressed that therapy that includes the entire family unit, especially if there are children or other family members living in the same household is beneficial.

“So, if, if you are struggling with COVID or a long COVID, then I would say to seek help professionally if you really are experiencing severe mental health symptoms,” Smith advised. “The feelings that you have are normal, you’re not crazy. It’s a lot that you’re dealing with, and it is okay to feel those feelings.

“And I think that part is important to also realize that it’s important to give yourself grace that nobody has gone through this. Our country has never gone through this. And if you’re experiencing that long COVID, it’s going to look different for everybody. And so, to really give yourself grace, your life is completely different, unfortunately, but also learning how your life will be different and giving yourself grace, you know, along that pathway.”

For information on mental health resources and treatment, call 214-341-7133 or visit

Robyn H. Jimenez/The Dallas Examiner contributed to this report.

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