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Celebrating Minority Mental Health Awareness Month 2017: Opening Doors for Hispanics/Latinos

By CSPP Dean Teresa Chapa, PhD

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month! This year we want to focus on our Hispanic/Latino communities- not just to raise awareness but to also take action.

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 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 need 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 inclusive excellence and is home to nearly 23% Hispanic/Latino students in Doctoral and Master level programs in clinical psychology, Couples and Family Therapy, and Clinical Counseling programs. Our programs 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 for all.

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 alcoholism, 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 of receiving professional care, Latinos may be self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol; using herbal supplements, or seeking advice from friends, family, faith healers, or religious leaders. Nonetheless, we would prefer including the traditional approach of faith, spirituality and family for complementary when in treatment for a mental health condition.

The truth is, 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 action. We need to dismantle barriers to care; build a culturally and linguistically competent mental health practitioner workforce, and work together to promote recovery and wellness. Si se puede!


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