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Mental health experts address stigma, care access for Latino youth

Gabriel C. Pérez

Texas county hosted a Spanish expert forum on suicide prevention and mental health care in Latino communities.

Lee esta historia en Español

If you or a loved one is facing a mental health crisis, call 988. Travis County residents in need of non-emergency support and resources can call Integral Care at 512-472-4357.

Latino parents need to have conversations with their children about mental health to help eliminate the stigma and prevent suicide, mental health experts stressed at an virtual event Wednesday.

"There’s a saying, ‘la ropa sucia se lava en casa,'” Integral Care's Wendy Salazar said in Spanish. (Dirty laundry should be washed at home.) “We need to recognize that there are families that are new in the country and are still in the process of understanding the resources and feeling safe in asking for that help.”

Only 35% of Latinos accessed mental health resources in 2020 compared to 48% of people in non-Latino groups, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That's one reason the National Alliance on Mental Health and Integral Care, Travis County’s mental health authority, held the forum.

To provide adequate care, Salazar said, mental health care providers should be culturally aware of stresses the Latino community faces, such as issues surrounding family migration, cultural estrangement and discrimination. Salazar said one of the largest barriers to care is the stigma against discussing mental health and emotions in Latino households.

The panelists stressed the importance of starting these conversations at home and with mental health professionals to help prevent suicide. Panelist Dr. Luis Zayas, a professor of psychiatry at Dell Medical School, said many parents struggle with these conversations because they might not understand what their child is going through, especially if they grew up in a country with a different culture.

“What parents have to understand is that the adolescence that their children are experiencing is different from the adolescence they experienced in their countries,” he said in Spanish. “It is important for the parent to understand that their child is facing challenges that perhaps they did not.”

Martha Luján, a social worker at the UT Children Wellness Center, helps conduct workshops for parents about how to talk about mental health with their children. She said parents need to educate themselves about how to create a safe space in case their child seeks help.

“The first thing that you might think is, 'What did I do wrong as a parent?’ Second, you won't know what to say and the conversation stops there,” Luján said in Spanish. “There are many programs where you can educate yourself about these things so that when you have that conversation with your children, you can help and guide them.”

Salazar said Integral Care has Spanish-speaking service providers for all the programs it offers. She encouraged families to start these conversation by reaching out to the agency.

"A lot of time when speaking with the families that we help, I try to encourage families to simply start with a call because that call opens many doors."

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Laura Morales