What’s the State of Mental Health and Racism?

May 27, 2021

What’s the State of Mental Health and Racism?

Sarah Kasarsky

It is always important for brands to meet their customers where they’re at, but after a particularly tumultuous year in politics, race relations and public health, brands must be even more sensitive to customers’ and employees’ mental health - and provide support where they are able.

During May - Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - OBERLAND asked American consumers on real-time market research platform Suzy, as well as individuals on our LinkedIn network, a series of questions to uncover the state of their mental health and how they want to brands to play a role in addressing it, particularly as it pertains to racism and racially-induced violence. 

See key findings below: 

1. Americans are still suffering from COVID-induced mental health impacts.

In March 2020, about ⅓ Americans (32%) said COVID-19 was negatively impacting their mental health and by July 2020, this number had increased to more than half of Americans (53%). This remained largely consistent as of March 2021, with 47% of Americans still reporting negative mental health impacts of the pandemic. When we asked our LinkedIn network what has caused them the most stress over the past year, this sentiment was mirrored: (82%) of respondents said COVID-19 was the largest driver of anxiety and worry over the past year. Second to the pandemic is another key issue that has been front and center in American life: systemic and institutional racism. 

2. Racism-induced anxiety is at an all time high among AAPI and Black Americans. 

Mental health and Asian Pacific American Heritage not only converge in their shared awareness month, but through the heightened mental health impacts that AAPI individuals, in particular,  are facing. According to the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, Asian Americans have experienced heightened levels of anxiety and depression over the past year due to COVID-19 related discrimination  - both verbal and violent. When we asked a panel of 250 Asian Americans about their mental health on Suzy, about ⅗ said that their mental health has worsened after hearing about a racially-motivated attack on an AAPI individual. This holds true among Black Americans, as two-thirds of our panel of Black Americans on Suzy shared that their mental health worsened in the immediate days after hearing about the attacks or killing of a Black individual by authorities. 

3. Employers can support AAPI, Black and other BIPOC employees to cope with racism-induced anxiety by showing them empathy and flexibility. 

Insights gleaned from Suzy revealed that Black and Asian Americans believe that “no questions asked” time off from work would most help them cope with racism-induced anxiety and stress. This requires employers to put their employees’ well being over day-to-day efficiency and perfection. No matter how big the presentation or how important the deadline seems, employers can show BIPOC employees that they empathize with the unique mental health challenges they are facing by giving them the time they need to process and heal. Though it may feel counterproductive, this demonstration of empathy and understanding will ultimately result in better employee output and satisfaction.

4. Americans across racial and ethnic groups do not agree on the reason for lack of understanding between them - a contributing factor of racism and consequently, racially-induced anxiety. 

OBERLAND asked 1,000 Americans which factor they believe has the greatest impact on the lack of mutual understanding between Americans, a contributing factor of racism and consequently, racially-induced anxiety. Results showed that Asian and Black Americans believe that geographic, racial and ethnic diversity contribute most to the lack of understanding between Americans,  as different experiences, upbringings and backgrounds foster different understanding of culture, fundamental “rights and wrongs” and politics. However, White respondents were more likely to believe that fundamental differences between citizens stem from fake news on social media.

How can brands begin to speak to unity and help foster empathy between diverse Americans? As a start, they can help dismantle stereotypes that contribute to racism. This can be done by showing BIPOC individuals in a more realistic array of situations in advertising and content,  like featuring more black women with their natural hair and increasing overall Asian representation in ads. This can also happen internally, by appointing more diverse individuals to C-Suite positions and highlighting successful BIPOC leaders. Learn more about the ways brands can drive racial equity here.

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