UC Davis study says state's Hispanics shorted on mental-health services
Jun 26, 2012 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Hispanics in the central San Joaquin Valley and the state are not getting the mental-health services they need, a UC Davis report released Monday said.
The two-year study concluded that the stigma of mental illness prevents many Hispanics from seeking help and there are few health providers who are fluent in their native languages or who understand their cultures to provide appropriate help.
Untreated mental health needs are a very common problem among the state's Hispanics, said Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at the University of California at Davis.
Depression, substance and alcohol abuse and anxiety are among the most prevalent mental-health conditions among Hispanics, the researchers said.
The "Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Disparities" report gathered information from 550 Hispanics at community forums in 13 cities, including Fresno, and at two high schools in the state.
The results are a product "of going to communities and learning from them what mattered to them in terms of mental health concerns and in terms of solutions," Aguilar-Gaxiola said during a teleconference from UC Davis.
Researchers heard that shame and stigma prevented Hispanics from seeking services. Other barriers included a lack of transportation to mental health programs and a lack of awareness of mental health services available in their communities.
Lali Moheno, a health activist and former Tulare County supervisor who participated in one of the community forums for the report, said education about mental illness is key to improving access.
"One of our biggest challenges is educating ourselves that mental health services are needed," Moheno said. It's difficult for Hispanic families to accept that a family member has a mental illness, she said. "The first thing people will tell you is, 'We're not crazy.' "
From the community forums, the team of researchers learned poor living conditions and other life stresses contributed to an increased risk for anxiety and depression, particularly among Hispanic youths.
Aguilar-Gaxiola said the report recommended school-based programs as one solution, recognizing how young the Hispanic population is in California and the opportunities to help youths. Nearly 60% of the state's children are now of Hispanic origin, he said.
The report was commissioned by the California Department of Mental Health in collaboration with the Latino Mental Health Concilio, a group of advocates for mental health consumers, including providers and educators. The report was paid for by the state Mental Health Services Act, a tax on millionaires.
Another recommendation was for money to help community organizations create mental health programs. Centro La Familia, a Fresno nonprofit organization serving low-income families, was one of 16 agencies identified as offering services that have shown success.
Centro La Familia Executive Director Margarita Rocha said peer support groups provide settings for mental health education. For example, anxiety is common among Hispanics, but "they don't connect it with it being a bona fide mental-health issue," she said.
Besides a need for more mental health education, Rocha said the central San Joaquin Valley needs mental-health clinicians who are familiar with cultural differences and able to communicate in a patient's native language.
Developing a culturally-competent mental health work force was among recommendations in the report.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, firstname.lastname@example.org or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.
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