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September 15, 2020
Hispanic Heritage Month: Focus on Latinx Mental Health 9/15-10/15

Raising awareness about the needs for mental healthcare for and among Latino communities alone is not enough. We must turn awareness into knowledge and knowledge into actions.

Guest blog by:Teresa Chapa, PhD, MPA, Dean of the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University

During Hispanic Heritage Month (Mes de la Herencia Hispana), which takes place September 15 to October 15, we recognize the contributions and the important presence of Latinx in the United States.

Did you know that persons of Hispanic origin are the nation’s largest ethnic/racial minority? In fact, we are 56.6 million strong; almost 18% of the U.S. population[1] with the largest numbers residing right here in California.

Yet, despite our presence and strength in numbers, we are facing a crisis in knowledge of, access to and the use of mental healthcare. Latinos are overrepresented in many of the most vulnerable populations, including the poor, children, elderly and the uninsured. Conversely, we are overwhelmingly underrepresented among mental health professionals, leaving those who prefer to communicate in Spanish without needed culturally and linguistically competent mental health professionals. Our current workforce is experiencing a mass shortage of these special providers.

The California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University is committed to prepare students to become culturally and linguistically competent mental health practitioners through rigorous academic and experiential preparation. Our goal is to fully prepare our students to meet today’s community and workforce needs while eliminating disparities and bridging gaps to accessing quality mental healthcare.

As a community, Latinos are also less likely to seek mental health care because of fear, shame or lack of information, leaving most without needed treatments. And although we experience common mental health concerns such as depression, suicidality, PTSD, and alcohol addiction, our ability to access quality culturally appropriate treatment is poor, putting us at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions.

Instead, Latinos may be self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol; using herbal supplements, or solely seeking advice from friends, family; faith healers or religious leaders. Rather than dismiss the role of traditional approaches, incorporating faith, spirituality and family acceptance can provide the needed support and help when in treatment for a mental health condition.

Many people in our community don’t even know the signs or symptoms of a mental health problem. Imagine suffering from heart disease, asthma or diabetes and going untreated! It’s a vicious cycle ­­– lack of information increases stigma, and stigma keeps you from seeking the care you need and deserve. And without the right care, certain mental health conditions can worsen and become disabling.

Raising awareness about the needs for mental healthcare for and among Latino communities alone is not enough. We must turn awareness into knowledge and knowledge into actions. We need to dismantle barriers to care; build a culturally and linguistically competent mental health practitioner workforce, and work together to promote a culture of recovery and wellness. Si se puede!

The following are a few resources on behalf of SanaMente to raise awareness and start conversations. To view more resources click here.

Guía de apoyo para la salud mental: a mental health support guide with tips and resources for achieving mental wellness.

SanaMente “Myths vs. Facts” poster: The SanaMente poster dispels the common misconceptions Spanish speakers have about living with a mental health challenge.

Mental Health Fact Sheet: Depression and substance use are two mental health challenges highlighted in the first SanaMente Mental Health Fact Sheet. In this double-sided fact sheet, you will find the symptoms and services available to treat these mental health challenges.

Teresa Chapa, PhD, MPA is the Dean of the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University. Located at 6 unique campuses across California and 3 international programs, CSPP is home to 9 accredited doctoral-level clinical psychology programs, Couples & Family Therapy, Clinical Counseling and Organizational Psychology programs.

Dr. Chapa has had a distinguished career of more than 25 years in public service at the federal, state and community levels; most recently in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, Office of the Secretary, where she established and led the behavioral health section and integrated behavioral health care focus in her position as Senior Policy Advisor for Mental Health. Prior to joining CSPP, she was awarded a 2-year intergovernmental employee assignment to the National Hispanic Medical Association where she served as Executive Director and promoted integrated behavioral health care strategies to provider communities.

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