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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — It’s been nearly two years since the coronavirus pandemic started, and people of all races have struggled with high anxiety and other disorders because of the uncertainty of the virus.

COVID has definitely impacted African Americans’ mental health and vaccine hesitancy in the community, Dr. Thommi Lawson, a licensed counselor in Columbia said.

“Control the controllable,” Lawson, said.  “Being able to control your reaction, your thoughts. Being able to control the amount of news you consume and when and the sources you get that news from. Those things are controllable.”

Lawson is the owner of Connect, Growth and Thrive, a group practice in Columbia that serves people in the Carolinas and Georgia.  Throughout the pandemic, she’s been helping her clients cope, offering guidance and mental health support.

“I think the issue now that we are seeing, and the one I’m hearing about daily, is childcare,” Lawson said.  “Schools are closing for various reasons, not just COVID. We have a lot of safety concerns.”

Food insecurity has also been a huge concern, and while these issues are not just limited to one race, Lawson said the pandemic has had a huge impact on the African American community.

“Particularly for Black and brown people, we are a collective community,” she said. “We do things as a community together. We worship together, we do graduations, cookouts, family reunions. That isolation that COVID has presented itself with has literally taken that off the table for us and so that lack of community for us and being able to gather and have those events that we look forward to annually has caused an increase in depression.”

Lawson said she tells her clients to identify a support system and utilize it.  She also encourages talking to a licensed mental-health professional.

“I think it’s very important that we begin to normalize mental health as part of our physical health,” she said. “They go directly hand and hand.”

Within the past year, vaccine options have been made available.  According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, in Horry County, 3,728 Black adults ages 18 to 64 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 per 10,000 people.  That’s compared with 4,471 white adults per 10,000 people.

Historically, African Americans have been hesitant to take vaccines, something Lawson said stems from a troubled past.

“If you look at the Tuskegee at syphilis experiment. Those treatments were intentionally withheld from treating those men,” Lawson said. “You think about J Marion Sims. He was the so-called father of modern gynecology, and he performed surgeries on enslaved Black women without anesthesia.”

Lawson said those types of situations have built a history of distrust and fear.

“We have to erase the stigma that’s associated with the vaccine,” she said. “I think seeing more people who look like us, share their experiences with the vaccination. I think will also be helpful.”

Aside from specific races, South Carolina has a low vaccination rate overall.  As of Feb. 8, slightly more than 53% of eligible residents have completed vaccination.  According to the Mayo Clinic, that’s the 12th-worst mark in the United States.