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Rising Above COVID-19: Overcoming the Mental and Physical Effects of the Virus

By Darryl Sellers

Holding back tears, Morrell Staten shared his poignant story about his and his wife’s COVID-19 journeys last year, speaking in late 2021 at the Cobb Institute-We Can Do This/Stay Well Community Health Fair at Cass Tech High School in Detroit. Staten and his wife both tested positive for the virus at almost the same time, making it a very challenging period for their family.

“Imagine – we have five kids, and we had to leave them because we were both in the hospital,” Morrell Staten said. “Luckily, both of us made it through, but thinking back on it is very scary.”

Prior to testing positive for COVID, Morrell Staten had been contemplating getting the vaccine. In hindsight, he wishes he had gotten vaccinated for COVID sooner.

Morrell Staten reflected on what followed his positive COVID test, including an arduous two days spent fighting through COVID symptoms, including chills and hot flashes. But when he woke up on the third day with chest pains as an added ailment, Staten said he knew his health situation was more serious. Staten decided to go to the emergency room at a local hospital, which led to a one-week stay. Fortunately, a COVID treatment of antibodies and oxygen led to his recovery.

Returning home and seeing his children again gave Morrell Staten a great sense of gratitude. But something still didn’t feel right mentally. He called his mom every night just to have someone to talk to. He barely slept and had nightmares. It was a period of time that left Staten feeling very unsettled. Now, he says the mental health aspects of COVID aren’t talked about by the media and others as much as they should be.

According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), African Americans are 20% more likely to experience psychological distress. With COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans, along with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, Black communities could be even more at risk for COVID-related mental health issues in 2022.

Dr. Lonnie Joe, a physician with the Cobb Institute, said medical professionals would not be doing their jobs if they didn’t address the mental aspect of the pandemic, which is having adverse effects on some Black Americans and their families.

He said he’s seen many patients who only decided to get vaccinated after a family member died or became severely ill from COVID-19. Dr. Joe said Black Americans shouldn’t wait that long before deciding to get vaccinated.

Part of the problem, according to Dr. Joe, is that our society is getting an overload of information that is often unreliable. “We’ve never had to deal with this to this degree in the healthcare arena, where people relied on other sources that may not be correct,” Dr. Joe said. “The ability to be exposed to the information has definitely changed the individual’s opinion about this pandemic. As a result, it will affect us as individuals.”

Dr. Joe also said medical professionals really need to think about how COVID affects individuals in the long run.

“I have several patients who had COVID 18 months ago, and they are still as sick as they can be, testing negative but experiencing a lot of adverse effects from the inflammation that the disease leaves them with,” Dr. Joe said. “We need to reflect again in that arena to talk about what can happen to actually support an individual who has been affected by this virus, whether it’s directly or indirectly. That is very important.”

In Morrell Staten’s case, the long-term effects of COVID include insomnia. Thankfully, Staten’s health insurance company called to check on him and set him up with a mental health professional. He said while meeting with a therapist is helping him deal with the aftermath, his mental health recovery from having the virus is an ongoing process.

“After a couple of weeks, I was able to finally get back to some normalcy,” Staten said. “But you never quite recover from something that bad. It has really affected me. I’m doing better now. I’m talking to a therapist, working through some of the residual things.”

As Staten’s mental health continues to get stronger, he said it’s important that more Black Americans open their eyes and get vaccinated in order to protect themselves, their loved ones, and everyone around them.

“Definitely get vaccinated,” Staten said. He added that getting vaccinated will help raise awareness for everyone, and the number of people seeing the need to get vaccinated will increase. “It’s just too important,” he said.

Vaccines help prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID. Being boosted offers the most protection. Please don’t delay. Get your vaccines and boosters as soon as possible.

For more information about Cobb Institute-We Can Do This/Stay Well Community Health Fair and Vaccine events, please visit Stay Well events.

More information about the Omicron variant can be found here: CDC – Omicron Variant Information.

To find vaccines and boosters near you, visit vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.

For resources and toolkits to help you build vaccine confidence in your community, visit the We Can Do This website.

Darryl Sellers is the Director of the Public Relations Team for Creative Marketing Resources, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the Cobb Institute.

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