Skip main navigation

How might COVID-19 affect vulnerable groups?

Dr. Sridhar Venkatapuram, Dr. Ruth Cairns, & Dr. Sean Cross discuss social identities & COVID-19, including older adults and members of BAME community
© Maudsley Learning © Tavistock & Portman NHS FT

In this step, we will focus on how groups of people with particular social identities can be affected by COVID-19. We’ll refer back to Susan’s experience of discrimination at a personal level and explore this at a community or group level. We will draw on Carol’s thoughts and views, and then move on to consider how older adults and people with long term conditions may be affected by COVID-19.

It is important to mention that many groups and social identities are affected by COVID-19 in different ways, and it would be impossible for us to explore all of them. We will look at a few examples and encourage you to translate your learning to other contexts. Feel free to do this in the discussion at the bottom of the page.


Image of Susan

Susan bravely shared her experience of discrimination at work, based on her ethnicity. While she didn’t demonstrate considerable distress at her experience in our video, we know that all forms of racism, whether overt or systemic, can have a significant negative impact on mental health.

We explored some of the psychological mechanisms that we must all beware of during a challenging time like this, in order to prevent negative experiences and harm. To add to the complexity, we also learn during Carol’s story that being a member of a minority ethnic group increases risk for developing COVID-19 in the general population and in our healthcare workforce.

We’d like to explore these issues at a broader level, across groups, communities, and society during COVID-19. To do this we need to introduce a couple of important concepts:

Intersectionality describes how the overlap of various social identities, such as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to an individual’s experience of discrimination.

Health inequities are systematic differences in the health status of different population groups that have significant social and economic costs to individuals and societies. In other words, people with certain social identity characteristics have worse health and are more likely to die than others.

When combined, these concepts help us to understand how individuals and social identities can be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, including their health and well-being.

In the video below Dr. Sridhar Venkatapuram, Senior Lecturer in Global Health and Philosophy at King’s College London shares some key considerations of the impact of COVID-19 on particular social identities.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Sridhar Venkatapuram on Social Identities (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

Immediately we may think about the impact of physical health on these groups, and rightly so. These factors are crucial to consider how we support people more effectively across society. However, it is also important to consider the psychological impact on groups of people who may be at increased risk from COVID-19.

The psychological effects in the previous activity, and those coming up in this activity, may be particularly relevant to these groups. Increased worry or anxiety, fearfulness and frustration, and combinations of fluctuating emotions may all be experienced.

Pause for thought

How does it feel to think about people with certain social characteristics being more affected by COVID-19? How would, or do, you feel to be part of these groups?

We also saw in Susan’s story how her mother has been affected as an older adult. To tell us a bit more about how people over the age of 70 have been affected, we have a short video from Dr. Ruth Cairns, Consultant Psychiatrist in Mental Health of Older Adults at SLaM and King’s College Hospital.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Ruth Cairns on Older Adults (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

Ruth highlighted once again how a particular group in society can face specific challenges. Some of these were relatable to other people’s challenges, including managing uncertainty, fear, and other aspects of mood, as well as social isolation. Notably, this could be increased in people over 70 as an ‘at risk’ group, who also may rely more on others for their practical and emotional support.

Although there has also been a considerable amount written about seeing all over 70s as one homogenous group, many fit and healthy septuagenarians can rightfully take issue with this approach.

We also heard how general adaptions in society may not work as well for some people. Accessibility issues for online interactions may be more keenly felt for those trying to access social interaction and support. Similarities and differences in experiences are important to reflect on for individuals and local contexts, as well as at a wider group level.

Ruth also mentioned the family context, which we’ll cover more in the next step.

Long term conditions

Finally, we’ll spend a few minutes below thinking about people with long term conditions. Sean’s video explores the experiences of these individuals.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Download Transcript of Sean Cross on Long Term Conditions (right click or tap/hold and open in new tab)

© Maudsley Learning © Tavistock & Portman NHS FT
This article is from the free online

COVID-19: Psychological Impact, Wellbeing and Mental Health

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now