A recent survey conducted by the Eugene City Council investigated the impact of the pandemic on our community’s mental health. Just less than half (45%) of the more than 600 local residents polled reported emotional distress directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among Spanish-speaking respondents, the percentage reporting emotional distress surged to a whopping 70%, according to KVAL reporting. What accounts for this large difference?

Key factors like language barriers, employment, housing, access, transport, culture, isolation, immigration status, stigma, and racism, among others.

All frequently are implicated in disproportionate effects of the pandemic on communities of color.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic has served to amplify existing inequities while simultaneously introducing new challenges. Current research illustrates the ways in which systems of oppression, often through trauma, contribute significantly to the rapidly declining mental health of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).

These concerns are reflected in the work we are conducting through the Oregon Mind Body Institute (OMBI, oregonmindful.org).

While we cannot, of course, resolve all of these concerns, we can at the very least offer a space where language, access, stigma, and isolation loosen their hold for an hour each week. Through grant funds from the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Community Foundation, we have been able to offer free mindfulness skills classes in Spanish and English (or at times Spanglish) for both teens and adults.

These classes introduce mindfulness concepts in a culturally sensitive and trauma-informed manner to help participants manage their anxiety and connect with other community members experiencing similar challenges.

Participants have hailed from all corners of Oregon, one of the primary benefits of conducting these groups remotely through video streaming. From Portland to Salem to Eugene to Bend, participants are sharing similar challenges that have a much larger effect on their well-being than they initially expected. Some have been let go from their jobs and are struggling financially, while others have remained employed but due to a state-wide deficit in PPE, are struggling to stay healthy and well. Still others find themselves worried about family in other countries and are hopeful for speedy access to the vaccine. 

Participants report leaving our classes with an improved understanding of their bodies and emotions – a stronger sense of community, and renewed hope in themselves, their community, and the world around them. If nothing else, this is reason enough to continue the work we do – if a single person has left our courses feeling empowered, better equipped, and more capable of taking on the challenges of our new normal and beyond, then we feel as though we have accomplished something worthwhile. 

For more information about OMBI and our courses, visit oregonmindful.org

Authors Samantha Martínez, M.Phil.Ed., M.S. Ed, Gina Williamson, M.S., and Claire Guidinger, M.A., M.S. are “externs” at CCC.