Introduction: During public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, populations can experience worsening mental health. Prior reports have suggested that Black Americans experienced lower rates of anxiety and depression than White Americans before the pandemic; however, during the pandemic, outcomes may be different as Black Americans have been disproportionately affected in terms of mortality, hospitalization, COVID-19 infection, and job loss. We documented the differential mental health impact of COVID-19 on Black and Non-Black Americans.
Methods: We analyzed nationally representative longitudinal data from the Understanding America Study COVID-19 Tracking Survey spanning March through November of 2020 to assess differences over time in prevalence of anxiety and depression between Black and non-Black Americans.
Results: We found that Black Americans were significantly less likely to report symptoms for anxiety, depression, or both during the pandemic. In a given month between March through November of 2020, the odds of Black Americans reporting such symptoms was on average about half that of Non-Black Americans. We also found that in September 2020, the gap in reporting symptoms for depression began to widen gradually. Specifically, since that time, prevalence of depression remained stable among non-Black Americans while it declined gradually among Black Americans. Our main results were robust to adjusting for demographics, risk perceptions, and baseline pre-pandemic mental health status.
Conclusions: Black Americans maintained significantly better mental health than Non-Black Americans despite their struggle against economic, health, and racial inequalities during the pandemic. We discuss the significance and implications of our results and identify opportunities for future research.