Latinas Champion Mental Health Resources for Latino Community
By Christine Bolaños
As many as 10 million Latinos in the United States have reported having a mental condition and disparities in access and quality of treatment have led to higher-than-average rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among Latinos.
The recent tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a rural community that is nearly 80 percent Latino – that resulted in the loss of 19 children and two teachers – has brought the mental health crisis plaguing the United States front and center. But Latina mental health professionals and advocates have long been fighting for better services and expanded resources for the Latino community.
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano secured federal funding for a pilot program in 2001 that provided mental health and suicide prevention services on-site in four schools in California. Since then, the program has grown to include 35 K-12th grade schools in the San Gabriel Valley and Southeast Los Angeles County with assistance from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. It now serves as a model for the 2021 Mental Services for Students Act (H.R. 721), which provides $130 million in funding for public schools across the country to partner with mental health professionals in their communities to establish on-site mental health care services for students.
“This is a critical step toward our goal of ensuring every student in America, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or ZIP code, has access to life-saving mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” she says.
Congresswoman Napolitano is co-founder and chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, which takes a bipartisan approach to raising awareness of mental health reforms and finding solutions to improve quality and access to mental health services.
“I think the whole country needs mental health services. The problem is there are not enough trained professionals. It’s important we help relieve those who choose this field by helping them pay their loans off,” she says. “It’s important because we finally have our foot in the door. Before, no one wanted to talk about mental health. It was ignored because it was stigmatized in our community. But we now know that if the brain is good, the rest of the body follows. Congress increased funding for mental health services, so now we have the funding to actually do the job necessary and make all communities aware of mental health resources, including in their spoken language.”
Many Latina mental health professionals offer pro-bono services to communities like Uvalde, which have directly been impacted by gun violence.
“There is this unspoken stigma surrounding mental health and the need to preserve family secrets and not ask for help and outside support. By providing information in Spanish, we have been able to show that asking for help is okay and ultimately, we are all human beings helping each other out,” explains Patricia Alvarado, Director and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at Alvarado Therapy. “By doing this, we are able to decrease barriers to access by incorporating telehealth into our services and continue providing education on various topics in both English and Spanish.”
“By doing this, we are able to decrease barriers to access by incorporating telehealth into our services and continue providing education on various topics in both English and Spanish.”
Licensed Clinical Psychologist Lisette Sanchez recalls working at a community center in Oregon that provided services to the local Spanish-speaking community. She found that her clients were driving an hour or longer to access a Spanish-speaking provider. She champions not only making mental health services more accessible but ensuring that telehealth services and programs also include an educational component that shows patients how to utilize these services.
“I specialize in working with first-gen professionals, which often includes children of immigrants. In my work with clients, we often highlight breaking generational cycles,” Dr. Sanchez shares. “This includes breaking the cycle of silence and advocating for mental health needs. If you are wanting to help, start having more of these conversations that center around mental health and normalize asking for support. Also, reach out to your local and state representatives to vocalize your community’s mental health needs.”
Natalie Yvette Gutiérrez is a Certified Internal Family Systems Therapist who provides trauma counseling to underserved communities healing from intergenerational trauma and complex post-traumatic stress. She believes in the internal power of people to manifest healing within themselves and their community.
“I want the reader to know that their voice is important and that we need to come together as a collective to heal our communities and that it’s important for us to reflect inside and see what needs healing,” she says. “We need to take the risk to be vulnerable with one another. We can’t heal alone, and so much of our pain comes from historical trauma, systemic racism, and oppression.”
“That sometimes means we turn against one another,” Gutiérrez added. “I want to ask people to envision what it would be like for us to come together, how we can love one another again and help one another heal.”