April is National Minority Health Month, and this year, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) is focusing on the impacts COVID-19 is having on racial and ethnic minority and American Indian and Alaska Native communities and underscoring the need for these vulnerable communities to get vaccinated as more vaccines become available. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain vulnerable populations, such as non-Hispanic African Americans, individuals living in nonmetropolitan areas, and adults with lower levels of education, income or who do not have health insurance, have a higher likelihood of forgoing getting vaccinated.
This year’s theme for National Minority Health Month is #VaccineReady. The goal of this campaign is to empower vulnerable populations to get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines, share accurate vaccine information, participate in clinical trials, get vaccinated when the time comes, and proactively practice COVID-19 safety measures.
Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping people from getting COVID-19 and the CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. As more vaccines become available, there are steps communities can take to protect themselves until they can get vaccinated:
Wear a mask to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Stay at least six feet (about two arm lengths) from others who do not live with you.
Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.
To learn more about National Minority Health Month and to receive updates on news and activities, sign up for OMH email updates and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
During April, the nation recognizes National Minority Health Month. The COVID-19 crisis has renewed the urgency of staying as healthy as possible while simultaneously making it a little more challenging.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health released guidelines, suggestions, and encouragement for anyone looking to stay as active and healthy as possible during this pandemic. While much of the nation is under a stay-at-home order or advisory to protect the public health, routine daily activities are necessarily curbed. What we once took for granted—basics like getting out for exercise or grocery shopping (or really just about anything)—is difficult.
Even if nurses aren’t working directly with COVID-19 patients, they feel the ripple effects on the industry. Taking steps to stay as healthy as possible right now might just take a little imagination and change. Once you find some different approaches, you can share what you’ve learned with your patients.
Here are some recommendations to keep you and your family healthy right now.
Keeping up with an exercise routine or even just making sure you’re getting any exercise is hard right now. Many gyms, casual fitness classes, and yoga studios have closed for the time being in keeping with social-distancing guidelines. That double whammy means a loss of important social contact and a loss of a routine that many people depend on to stay fit and to stay motivated. Getting outside to walk or run (with a mask if you expect to be near others) will keep you moving and help you maintain a level of fitness. Inside, you can walk up and down stairs if you have them (a tough workout if you do it for a while!) or try some of the free fitness videos that are streaming online. Use your own body weight to keep muscle tone—sets of squats, pushups, and lunges are excellent for strength. You can even do bicep curls with cans of food or milk jugs if you don’t have weights.
Focus Your Eating
We are in a stressful, scary, and unprecedented pandemic, and many of us are going to fall into eating habits that are less than healthy. Don’t judge yourself for the bag of chips you ate or the pint of ice cream that went down so easy. Some people veer too far the other way and don’t take in enough calories when they are worried. Today is a new day. Be gentle with yourself and try to think ahead when you grocery shop. If you’re trying to limit your trips, think of food that has longer storage so you won’t need to make so many trips . Frozen veggies are excellent swaps for fresh, and so are some canned veggies. Frozen fruit can be heated for a comforting treat, baked into a bread, used in smoothies, or just defrosted and used to top cereal. Healthy grains (quinoa, brown rice, barley, oats) store for a long time and make an excellent and easy-to-build-from base for meals and snacks.
Quiet Your Brain
Reducing your stress is going to be the biggest challenge for many nurses during National Minority Health Month and for many months to come. This isn’t the time to tackle a self-improvement plan or to learn how to meditate like a pro. But it’s an excellent time to recognize that you need extra TLC. There are many apps (Calm, InSight Timer) that offer some free guided meditations. Some sessions are as short as a minute, but many fall into the 10-minute range. Other apps bring soothing nature sounds. Small, simple activities like lighting a favorite candle, reading a few easy pages of a book or a magazine, coloring with your kids, doing a puzzle, playing with your dog, calling a friend or loved one, or binge-watching a favorite series can help bring your focus to the present and may ease the ever-present worry for a while.
Staying healthy right now probably looks different from your previous routines, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Whatever you can do right now to get through this time is going to be worth it.
Mental health issues affect millions of families in the United States, and families struggling with the issue often have a hard time finding the right care to help tehir loved ones.
This month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) focuses the spotlight on Minority Mental Health Awareness Month by talking about the discrepancies minorities dealing with mental health issues face and the complex web those who care about them must navigate to get help.
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the struggle of minorities living with a highly treatable, but often stigmatized illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health to achieve a balanced, healthy life, and the Office of Minority Health notes that mental illness impacts minorities at a greater rate than whites.
Minorities who live with mental illness often face barriers to care that, throughout the nation, can often prevent them from getting tratment of any kind. Depending on the community in which they live, access to high-quality mental health care can be hard to find. With the best teaching hospitals and clinics often located in big cities and psychiatrists and mental health counselors scattered throughout regions, gaining access to help is tough. According to NAMI, language barriers, cultural bias, and resources that don’t fill the need for care also get in the way of people getting essential treatment.
Even in the best situations—if someone has access to care and the insurance to pay for it—some minorities find a rigid cultural stigma against mental health issues. The stigma can be so complex and overwhelming, that it’s enough to keep someone from getting the help they need. If someone has the determination to find proper care, continuing with it can be a lonely struggle, so good support and follow through is especially necessary.
As a nurse, you can help in a couple of ways. With your direct, hands-on caregiving of patients, you can help assess if the patient might have mental health issues underlying their other health concerns. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Erratic or harmful behavior is an obvious warning sign, but more subtle signs can easily be brushed aside: a patient who comes in routinely for aches and pains but nothing is physically wrong, a new mom who mentions her struggle to care for her newborn, the young man who says he can’t sleep for days and then sleeps for three days in a row, or an elderly patient who feels a sense of hopelessness and loneliness after a health change.
All these smaller signs are red flags that something isn’t right and that your patient may be struggling with some form of mental illness. Because there are so many different types of mental illness and so much variation in severity, a front-line nurse can bring in the mental health team for an assessment. They can continue to advocate for the patients to understand the issues they are facing, whether it is lack of care, inability to access care, a cultural belief in mental illness as a personal flaw or weakness, or family that is not supportive or understanding. Communicate what a kind of positive impact mental health treatment can have on their lives and well being.
Showing compassion for patients and a cultural understanding of why they may be reluctant to be diagnosed with a mental illness can have a lasting, positive impact on your patients as well. Let them know they are not alone and that your team can help them find help. They may still refuse, but an open attitude might bring them back.
Understanding the challenges of mental health care with minority populations is important. These complex issues can prevent someone with very treatable forms of things like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder from growing into a worse problem. Earlier treatment makes a big difference, helps people live better lives, and can prevent a mild form of illness from developing into a more complex and harder-to-treat condition.
Nurses in the United States can expect to encounter several unfamiliar cultural practices throughout their careers.
Depending on where you practice, you might find your cultural knowledge base challenged every day or it might only happen a few times a year. What you can plan on is wanting to make sure you don’t offend your patients because you don’t understand their practices or their beliefs.
Even if they seem unusual, complicated, or outdated to you, the most important attitude shift you can make is to remember they aren’t your practices to adapt. But it is your job to honor them for the sake of your patient’s comfort. Culturally competent nursing practice makes you a better nurse overall.
With so many different practices in the world, and even varying practices within a single culture or religion, you don’t have to spend hours studying to get it all right. Although it’s helpful to become familiar with the cultures you see most often, the best way to find out what is important to your patients and their families is to do one simple thing – ask.
Ask new patients about their preferences and if they have any religious or cultural guidelines they follow in their everyday lives. These could range from food preparation and serving to modesty issues. Some families have a strict order of hierarchy, so talking with a patient could involve the entire immediate family.
Talking with your patients and asking them questions, not only helps you take better care of them but it also helps you both establish mutual trust. And if your patients trust that you will honor something so important to them, they are much more likely to be open and honest with you about their own health care practices (especially when they are not following medical orders for a culturally influenced reason).
One of the biggest benefits of practicing culturally competent care is the honest relationship you’ll establish. If they are open with you, you will be able to develop a health plan that will include awareness of certain habits or practices and will find substitutions for others. If your diabetic patient has a period of fasting he or she strictly adheres to, mandating food during that time could easily be ignored. Trying to find a way to accommodate the practice within safe and healthy guidelines will help both of you.
Nurses also find some self reflection helpful when they are dealing with a culturally diverse population or even just one population they are not familiar with. If you are aware of any biases, any fears, and any prejudices you have, you can work hard to keep them from interfering with a patient’s requests.