Surgeon General: Debates over racism, police violence adding to mental stress of 2020

Surgeon General Jerome Adams puts on a face mask after a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss vaccines and protecting public health during the coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Washington. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

(Network Indiana) — The U-S surgeon general says the yearlong debate over racism and police violence displays two sides of a mental-health coin.

Former Indiana health commissioner Jerome Adams notes the American Medical Association recently described racism as a form of trauma, with the repeated indignities of traffic stops or police questioning putting African-Americans perpetually on their guard. He says he’s had store security guards treat him with suspicion, even since he became surgeon general.

Speaking by videoconference, Adams told an Indianapolis forum on mental health and policing that he and other African-Americans watched the video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police with the feeling that they could just as easily have been the ones on the pavement.

But Adams says police experience a similar persistent chipping away at their mental well-being through the nature of their job, confronting trauma or danger every day. He says the repeated stress can lead both police and citizens to act inappropriately. And Adams says the tension is a subset of a larger problem: he says the U-S needs to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health care, and treat it as the equivalent of physical care, not a sign of weakness.

Adams says the coronavirus pandemic has aggravated mental health issues. He says it’s one more reason to follow COVID’s three W’s: wear your mask, wash your hands, and watch your social distancing.