Sterling K. Brown Stresses Importance of Mental and Emotional Support amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The year 2020 has been unlike any other, and Sterling K. Brown is doing his best to stay healthy — mentally, emotionally and physically — amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the racial unrest in the country.

"My family is doing well, we are figuring it out one day at a time. I don't think we, as a collective unit, have gone through the highs and lows of the past six months in the rest of our lives," Brown, 44, tells PEOPLE.

"It is one of those things where you feel disgusted and frustrated at the loss of life, with regards to police brutality, social injustice and racial injustice, but you're also galvanized by the idea that a collective of people outside of the Black community also recognize that the status quo is not right and something has to change. You just kind of go back and forth between the anger and the hope that is represented by a coalition of people that care."

Racial justice is not the only cause close to the heart of the This Is Us star. He's also an ally to those affected by cancer. In May 2019, he launched the series Survivorship Today from Bristol Myers Squibb to raise awareness of the struggles cancer survivors may face after treatments. (The cause hits home for Brown, whose uncle died of cancer in 2004, just six months after being diagnosed.)

And as the global health crisis evolves, it continues to attack the most vulnerable, including cancer survivors.

"So many things that cancer survivors have gone through are being revisited with how vigilant they must be in terms of their own personal self-care. They have compromised immune systems," Brown says. "This virus can be lethal. And there is this fear of, 'Could I get sick with this?' Or, 'The fact that my immune system is not what it once was, could this be lethal to me?' Feelings that they may have had when they were going through their treatment of cancer."

Through his work with Survivorship Today, the actor also helps survivors find community and call attention to their personal triumphs and challenges.

"It's going to take a minute before life looks the way that it was before this virus, you got to be patient. And in that patience, you have to be creative in terms of how you interact with the community, whether it's in your backyard, outside with picnics and people bringing their own utensils or whatnot. There are ways that we can do it safely," he says. "It may take a little bit more mental energy, but hopefully, mental energy is worth a high quality of life for everyone that you love."

Brown, who returns to production on season 5 of This Is Us this week, also stresses the importance of wearing a face mask —  plus, "obviously wash your hands, have your hand sanitizer"— to ensure safety for all.

"I care enough about my fellow man to recognize that I could potentially be a carrier to someone that I love, to someone that I care about, to someone who has as much a right to life as anybody else," he says. "The idea that I could unconsciously or unwittingly affect them is something that horrifies me. And if there's something I can do, it's as simple as putting a mask on when I'm in the presence of someone that I care about them, why wouldn't I?"

The Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts star adds, "Wearing a mask should in no shape, form or fashion, be a political issue. It's a health issue. It's a responsibility issue as a humanitarian. It's not just about you. It's about the whole community."

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