Latino Endowment Fund at the Hartford Foundation Event: COVID-19 and Mental Health in the Latino Community

As we grapple with the public health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19 and mass protests of generations of systemic racism and racially motivated police brutality, the Latino Endowment Fund at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving held a timely online discussion on COVID-19’s impact on the mental health of the Latino community.

Catherine G. Corto-Mergins, LCSW, Director of Training and the Collaborative Trauma Center at The Village for Families and Children, offered a comprehensive presentation about how COVID-19 and the recent events around police brutality and racial justice have impacted the Latino community, calling it a “Perfect Storm” in terms of impact.

Corto-Mergins illustrated how the virus has disproportionately impacted communities of color, including Latinos, who were infected at a rate more than twice that of their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Factors that led to this disproportionate impact on communities of color include many of the issues around the Hartford Foundation’s strategic focus areas of race, place, and income, particularly relating to living conditions and work circumstances. For instance:

  • Members of racial and ethnic groups may be more likely to live in densely populated areas because of institutional and systemic racism in the form of residential housing segregation.
  •  These neighborhoods tend to be  farther from grocery stores and medical facilities, making it more difficult to receive care if sick and stock up on supplies that would allow them to stay home.
  • Multi-generational households, which may be more common among some racial and ethnic  families, may find it difficult to take precautions to protect older family members or isolate those who are sick, if space in the household is limited, or some members are not able to work from home.
  • Racial and ethnic  groups are over-represented in jailsprisons, and detention centers, due to the country’s long history of institutionalized racism, which have specific risks due to congregate living, shared food service, and more.
  •  The risk of infection may be greater for people who continue to work outside the home, because they lack sick leave, are deemed essential, or cannot afford to stay home.
  • Nearly a quarter of employed Hispanic and Black or African American workers are employed in service industry jobs, compared to 16% of non-Hispanic whites.
  •   Hispanic workers account for 17% of total employment but constitute 53% of agricultural workers; Black or African Americans make up 12% of all employed workers but account for 30% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.
  • Compared to whites, Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured, and African Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured. In all age groups, Blacks are more likely than whites to report not being able to see a doctor in the past year because of cost.
  • Inadequate access is also driven by a long-standing distrust of the health care system, language barriers, and financial implications associated with missing work to receive care.
  • Compared to whites, Black Americans and Latinos experience higher death rates and higher prevalence rates of chronic conditions.
  • Stigma and systemic inequalities may undermine prevention efforts, increase levels of chronic and toxic stress, and ultimately sustain health and healthcare disparities.
  • COVID-19 has also had a significant, disproportionate financial impact on the Latino community, she said.  According to the Washington Post, Hispanic Americans are nearly twice as likely to have lost their jobs amid coronavirus shutdowns, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the Latino unemployment rate spiked to nearly 19 percent, meaning more than 4 million Latinos – nearly one in five - are unemployed.
  • Additional data from the Associated Press shows more than two-thirds of Latinos have seen a shift in their household income, primarily caused by 20 percent of all Hispanic adults being laid off or furloughed since the outbreak, compared to 11 percent of white Americans. As a result, 21 percent of Latinos have been unable to pay rent or make mortgage payments compared to eight percent of white Americans.

This has led to:

  • Increased anxiety over finances and the inability to pay rent, buy food, etc.
  • Increased stress over essential workers being exposed and then exposing family members, forcing families to separate to avoid spreading the virus, which creates additional financial burdens.
  • Greater instances of illness and death, with changes in the way we must deal with death, and the disruption in our normal grieving rituals, exacerbating existing stress and anxiety.

Added to these factors, Corto-Mergins said, are the recent protests against racially motivated police brutality and systemic racism ignited by the murders of George Floyd Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Abrey and others. The graphic video of Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer and the corresponding protests can trigger traumatic memories for members of the Latino community who have had their own experiences of systemic and individual racism.

There is more than one kind of trauma, she explained: Big T, such as from disasters and acts of violence, Little t, which might be an argument or trip to the dentist, and chronic, including that from racism and poverty.

Toxic amounts of stress, Corto-Mergins said, can come from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as violence, abuse or neglect, family instability due to incarceration, substance abuse, and racism. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood, and can negatively impact education and job opportunities. While most people have ACEs, she added, brown or black children often experience them more often and more severely as a result of systemic racism.

When added to COVID trauma and triggers from protests for racial justice, a “Perfect Storm” is significantly impacting mental health and physical health, leading to depression, loneliness and isolation, substance abuse and overdose, anger, risky online behavior and domestic violence.

Prompted by Corto-Mergins, attendees discussed the ways their lives have changed since COVID-19, including using technology, balancing work with childcare, and feelings of isolation, depression, and worry over their health and that of their loved ones. But there were positive outcomes, too, including spending more time with their children and family members, and reconnecting with friends.

In addition to many of the same challenges facing the attendees, The Village’s Latino clients are reporting difficulty with distance learning – and finding basic information - due to language barriers, insufficient Internet access, and lack of computer skills. The children struggle with lack of access to “live” classes, and those who need accommodations and specialized services are not being served.

Corto-Mergins ended her presentation on a positive, hopeful note – reminding her listeners that people can heal and recover from trauma.

Children and adults who are resilient see themselves as safe, capable, and lovable. Factors that increase resilience include strong relationships with at least one competent, caring adult, feeling connected to a positive role model, feeling control over one’s life, nurturing talents and abilities, and a sense of belonging to a larger community.

Healing yourself, and building hope and resilience, takes effort. Individuals must take care to remain active and be mindful of their physical and mental health, such as by making connections, doing something creative that engages their passions, and asking for help.

Click here to view the meeting. 

For support and a list of COVID-19 resources, visit 

Hartford Foundation COVID-10 Response Resource Page