What Is…Minority Stress

When I started my “what is” series, there were a number of terms that I thought were deserving of a post in the series, because they are viewed as social justice jargon that many don’t understand. One term I didn’t know too much about, but have come to learn more about, is minority stress.

What is minority stress, and why is it so important to know what it is?

A concise definition I’ve seen for the term is that it “refers to the way that individuals from underrepresented or stigmatized groups experience a number of stressors that directly relate to a minority identity.”[1] Those stressors come from experiences of rejection, discrimination, and other forms of marginalization.[2]

However, it is more than a term—it is a framework.

When the framework first came to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was one to help explain how certain minority groups experience disproportionate poor mental health outcomes. The rise in prominence of this notion was significant in terms of coming to a greater understanding of why sexual minorities (people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual) experienced a high number of mental health issues—issues that can be attributed to stressors such as rejection, hiding, internalized homophobia, external homophobia, and more.[3] With this minority stress framework, it is easier to see how such stressors lead to the poor mental health outcomes.

More recently, the idea of minority stress has expanded to also explain how certain other minority groups experience disproportionate poor physical health outcomes—not just poor mental health outcomes. The expansion of thinking about how minority stress may manifest itself was significant in terms of coming to a greater understanding of why sexual minorities also experience a high number of poor physical health outcomes—issues that can be attributable to the same stressors that cause the poor mental health outcomes as well.[4]

While the study of health outcomes for sexual minorities has played a prominent role in understanding minority stress, it must be pointed out that the issue of minority stress for explaining disproportionate poor mental and physical health outcomes among certain people and groups is relevant to many other communities. A few such communities that come to mind are some indigenous communities, some communities of color, and some immigrant communities.

It must also be pointed out that someone can be in multiple minority communities and therefore experience minority stress (with its relevant stressors) for all of the communities they are in. One of the more prominent articles on this subject explored minority stress as experienced by LGBT people of color,[5] but there are other combinations of minority identity that can have the impacts of what the aforementioned article calls multiple minority stress.

I’ve thrown around a lot of terms in this post—minority stress, stressors, multiple minority stress—but does this all matter? And if so, why?

It absolutely matters, on both a personal level and a policy level.

On a personal level, stressors that lead to the experiences of minority stress for a wide group of minority communities should be a call to self-examination, to see whether we act in ways that contribute to that minority stress for our friends of color, for our friends with disabilities, for our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and so on. And if we find that we do, it’s a call to change our actions. That self-examination may not be easy and may result in letting go of long-held beliefs about certain people or groups of people, but some people’s well-being depends on it.

On a policy level, I would only hope that the stressors which lead to the experiences of minority stress would be a call to action for elected officials to see whether any policies or laws contribute to minority stress for any marginalized communities. And then, if any policies do contribute in such a negative way, curtail them.

Overall, a greater understanding of minority stress and its impacts will hopefully lead to actions from all that will, in the long run, reduce those stressors that lead to the stress. That is my hope, and that is my dream.

[1] https://www.verywellhealth.com/minority-stress-in-health-disparities-4691231

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2072932/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895416/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4059824/

Want to “Support Our Health Workers”? Here are Some Tangible Ways to Do So.

“I support our health workers.”

The above is a common refrain I’ve heard while the United States has grappled with the coronavirus.

I agree with the sentiment—I think our health workers should be supported. However, I also recognize that all too often, this refrain does not turn into action. Often, we say “support our health workers” but then act in ways that show anything but support for our health workers.

But how can we support our health workers? I propose a few suggestions:

  1. If you aren’t doing so already, wear a mask or some other protective face covering[1] and practice social distancing. These two actions are widely proven to contain the spread of the coronavirus. If people performed these two actions, we would keep our health workers from becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.
  2. Assess the needs of the health workers where you live, and act accordingly. Speaking as someone who witnessed how difficult things were with the coronavirus in New York City, the needs of health workers were varied—at one point it included everything from equipment to food to funds for childcare. I can’t speak for what the needs are of health workers in places like Miami or Houston, but I strongly urge you to assess the needs of health workers where you live and act accordingly.
  3. If there are murmurs of a hospital closing down near where you live, do all you can (within reason) to protest the closure. There is a great deal of concern about the financial strain that many hospitals are experiencing as a result of the pandemic.[2] As such, there is also concern about the potential of hospitals closing. The closure of hospitals would put more strain on the hospitals that remain, and therefore the health workers who remain. As such, I urge readers to protest any proposed hospital closures in your area.
  4. Support legislative efforts to reduce the financial burdens that our health workers have. From current childcare costs to past student loan costs, there are a multitude of financial burdens that many of our health workers have to deal with. Given the stresses involved with trying to deal with the pandemic, we should try to minimize other sources of stress, such as financial burdens. This is where I would recommend actions such as urging your member of Congress to support legislation to forgive student loan debts for frontline health workers during COVID-19.[3]
  5. If you have a friend who is a health worker, listen to what they have to say. Don’t blow off your friend. Don’t minimize the experiences your friend had. Just listen to them.

These are just a handful of ways that you can support our health workers during COVID-19. Are there other ways we should consider supporting health workers? If so, please leave a comment below!

[1] I understand that some people have a difficult time with masks for health reasons. However, for many, there are other types of face covering, such as face shields, that may work better for you than a face mask.

[2] https://www.aha.org/guidesreports/2020-05-05-hospitals-and-health-systems-face-unprecedented-financial-pressures-due#:~:text=Hospitals%20face%20catastrophic%20financial%20challenges,of%20%2450.7%20billion%20per%20month.

[3] https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr6720

Coronavirus Update From New York City: April 23, 2020

Thankfully, I am getting this post out earlier in the evening this Thursday than I did last Thursday. I’m glad about that because frankly, these updates have not been necessarily the sort of material I would recommend reading right before bed.

Anyway, everyone in my family remains free of COVID-19 symptoms. Some of us (myself included) have struggled a little bit with allergies, but those allergies are no worse for me this spring than they are most other springs. Besides, everyone’s temperature has been normal, and none of us have shown the symptoms of the coronavirus. I should also add this week that my living set of grandparents, who live in a senior living community in a different state, are doing okay. Believe me–I’m relieved myself, given all the horror stories coming out of many senior living communities and nursing homes about COVID-19.

The situation, while not great, has improved somewhat in New York. Here are a few things of note, with regards to New York’s situation:

  • As of the day I’m writing this, Governor Andrew Cuomo reported fewer than 500 deaths in one day for the third consecutive day. I’m not celebrating because daily deaths in the 400-500 range is still horrifically high, but the rate at which deaths were happening was at the 600-800 range last week.
  • Hospitalizations and ICU admissions are down. Once again, there are still a lot of people hospitalized and in the ICU, but given how difficult this situation has been, I will take even incremental improvement.
  • Even though things have improved somewhat, there is a long way to go, and in the assessment of public health officials in New York City and State, we are not ready to do the sort of partial reopening that is happening in parts of the United States.

Speaking of partial reopening, I see that there have been some protests over the stay-at-home restrictions in a number of states. I understand the desire among some to get back to some semblance of normalcy, and the anger in how that return is not happening quickly (or at all yet, in many places), but I beg people to take this pandemic seriously. Everyone in my family at this point knows multiple people who fell seriously ill or died from this. Unless you want that future for yourself, your family, and your friends, please take the social distancing and the stay-at-home restrictions seriously.

P.S. I heard about these protests. Therefore, I “counter-protested” by taking a picture of myself wearing a scarf for protection while taking a short walk for exercise, albeit a walk where I make sure to practice social distancing.

On Litter and the Coronavirus

The other day, I was struggling to come up with an idea of what to write about for today’s post. It’s not that I lack blogging ideas…It’s just that most of my blogging ideas didn’t feel particularly relevant right now, given what’s going on in the world. And then, I saw this:

Litter in a business area near my home. The photo is from me.

Just as the situation was starting to go downhill in New York City (over a month ago), I said to my younger brother that the coronavirus would bring out both the best and the worst in humanity. And the fact is that images like this, images of massive litter around businesses that have been shuttered for weeks due to the coronavirus, truly bring out some of the worst in humanity. Instead of throwing garbage in a nearby garbage can, it appears that dozens of people have seemingly taken advantage of the closed businesses (and subsequent lack of monitoring of litter) by using the streets as their personal garbage cans for their food wraps, coffee cups, and worse…personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and face masks.

I share this, not because I’m accusing any of my readers of being litterers (my guess is that quite a few of my readers will be horrified with the photo above), but because people need to be aware of the accumulating litter near empty businesses (at least in New York City, because I can’t speak for anywhere else), as well as the subsequent environmental and public health issues that will exist here. There are the environmental issues caused by litter, such as animals mistaking the litter for food and potentially choking on it (and dying from it). But then there’s the public health issue—whoever ends up handling this garbage will have to deal with germs from the PPEs. And at that point, you’re hoping that the germs on the PPEs are not coronavirus germs.

As far as I can tell, this issue of accumulating litter (particularly by the areas near shuttered businesses) is not getting that much media coverage…at least not yet. Given that fact, I think that it’s important to at least raise awareness of this issue on here, so that it is shared with others. It is also important to, if any of us have the opportunity (and if we feel comfortable), say to someone who looks like they are about to litter something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but would you please wait to throw that away until you can put it into a trash can?”

I hope others are doing well, and I certainly hope that none of you are staring at images even half as disgusting as what I have in the image toward the beginning of this post.

How Not to Respond, and How to Respond, to the Coronavirus

I actually had a different post in mind for this week, but given the situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19), I decided to make a quick change in plans. Given the wide range of both unjust and just reactions I’ve seen to the coronavirus, I thought I would make a list of things (with explanations) on how not to respond, and how to respond, to this.

Do not respond with anti-Chinese sentiments.

Anti-Chinese sentiments include a refusal to buy Chinese food from your local Chinese restaurant and getting angry at anyone who is or looks Chinese, simply because this strain of coronavirus was first discovered in China. Just because it first originated there does not mean that we should treat people of Chinese descent as any less than anyone else.

Do listen to medical health experts in your area.

Listen to guidance from people in your city’s and/or state’s Health Department. Those who are actually working on this virus on a day-to-day basis are the ones who will likely have wise advice on how best to proceed. So, listen to them…please.

Do not automatically get angry if you see someone who sneezes or coughs when they are out in public.

The other day, someone absolutely freaked out at me when I sneezed once…once! However, we must realize that there are many reasons for someone to sneeze or cough that do not necessarily involve corthe coronavirus. It could be a cold, it could be allergies, or it could be that someone randomly has the urge to sneeze…all of us have the urge to sneeze once in a while, even if we are perfectly healthy!

But, if at all possible, please do stay home if you feel sick.

Thanks to the lack of sick leave that some people have (a subject I wrote about at length in last week’s blog post), it is not possible for some people to stay home. However, for those who do have sick leave available to them, use it when you feel sick. By staying home when you’re sick, you’re doing a favor to yourself and to others.

Do wash your hands frequently.

People should use discretion, but should also remember to wash their hands with regularity and thoroughly. You want to do all you can to kill the bad germs you may end up coming into contact with.

Do find things to occupy your time, if other things that used to occupy your time (work, school, sports) are getting canceled.

Don’t just sit around. Give your friend a phone call or a video call. Pick up a book. Sing songs, play an instrument, or listen to a CD. Watch a DVD or a favorite show or movie on a service like Hulu or on-demand cable. Pick up a new hobby. Work on a garden. Write something. Do some painting. We need to look out not just for our physical health, but our mental health too, and these are all things that will help us look out for our own and each other’s mental health.

The situation with the coronavirus is a very hectic and fluid situation. However, I hope that these tips I offered are a good place for all of us to start in order to take care of our own and others’ physical and mental health. I am also open to hearing other tips in the comments section below!