“One out of every three Latina high school students seriously considers committing suicide”
By Federico Martínez, Special to La Prensa
It was a chilling dose of reality for the 300 health professionals and community leaders gathered at a recent Latino health forum held in Cleveland, Ohio recently:
· One out of every three Latina high school students seriously considers committing suicide, and half of those youth will actually attempt suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control statistics and backed up by a 2013 national study conducted by JAMA Psychiatry.
· Although the same rates for Latino teenage boys are much lower, their success rate is much higher because they often chose more lethal methods when attempting suicide.
· The picture for Latino adults is just as concerning – one out of every two Latino females, and one out of every five Latino males suffer from depression.
“And we haven’t even discussed the trauma and distress are affecting Latino immigrants,” says Lisa Ramírez, a Child and Adolescent Psychologist for MetroHealth Care in Cleveland. Ms. Ramírez, who made a presentation during the Cleveland health forum, noted that mental health studies are not available yet for measuring the psychological impact on immigrants who live every day fearing their non-legal status may be discovered, or face watching a loved one being deported.
In many communities, like Ohio’s Lucas County, specific mental health statistics for Latinos don’t exist. Many states have expended little, if any financial resources to measure Latino health issues in their communities, health officials at the Cleveland health forum agreed.
That likely has contributed to the widespread lack of services available to treat Latinos suffering from mental illnesses like depression, Ms. Ramírez and other experts in Ohio say.
“There are no bilingual, Latino psychiatrists in the state of Ohio and very few psychologists and social workers, said Anita Martínez-Folger, a Community Outreach Coordinator for National Alliance of Mental Health of Greater Toledo. “There is a lack of resources. If there are no services for the community, what are we going to do?”
Few Seek Help
Mental illness has long been a stigma in the Latino community, said Maria F. Mars, an adult psychiatry specialist at MetroHealth. More funding and outreach efforts need to be done to educate the Latino community about mental illness.
“Mental illness affects all ages,” said Mrs. Martínez-Folger. “When we say the word “health” people usually think about physical, not emotional health.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a lack of knowledge; mental illness is a disease. Our brain can get sick just like a pancreas.”
NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Health – is one of several organizations whose primary purpose is to deliver that education. NAMI, through Mrs. Martínez-Folger’s efforts provides a variety of programs and activities to try and reach the Latino community. It’s not an easy audience to capture, she admits.
Machismo, language barriers and deep-seated cultural beliefs are all obstacles, she said. Latinos who are not living legally in the United States are even more reluctant to seek help because they fear deportation.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Latinos are twice as likely to seek treatment for mental disorders in other settings, such as general health care or the clergy, rather than mental health specialists. Among Latinos with mental disorders, less than 1 in 11 ever contact a mental health care specialist, while less than 1 in 5 mention to their family doctor.
Fewer than 1 in 20 Latino immigrants with mental disorders seek help from specialists.
During a recent program hosted by NAMI, Juan Francisco Molina, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Toledo, Ohio, noted that many of his clergy come to him for help because they believe mental illness is a punishment from God. Although he will talk to them about their problems and pray for them, he encourages them to seek medical attention also.
“It’s not a punishment,” said Mrs. Martínez-Folger. “It’s not ‘the evil eye.’” It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s not contagious; It’s treatable.”
In Toledo, NAMI offers support group meetings from 6 to 7:30 p.m., every first and third Monday at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 728, South St. Clair. Art Therapy and 12-week Family Education programs are also offered.
For more information about NAMI’s programs contact Martínez-Folger at (419) 243-1119, ext. 25 or [email protected]
Nowhere to Go
In Northwest Ohio there are several mental health agencies, but none that are specifically geared towards the needs of Latinos.
Officials at Harbor Behavior Health Care and Unison Behavioral Health Group in Toledo acknowledge they don’t have any trained medical professionals on staff who are bilingual and Latino. They do utilize Spanish translators, but those translators are not trained in medical terminology and often don’t know anything about the culture of the Latino clients they are trying to assist, said Mrs. Martínez-Folger.
According to national statistics, only 1 percent of licensed psychologists with active clinical practices and who are members of the American Psychological Association identify themselves as Latino. Currently, there are about 29 Latino mental health professionals for every 100,000 Latinos in the United States.
Mari Galindo-Dasilva, coordinator of Language Access and Communications Services at MetroHealth, said being able to speak a language doesn’t guarantee that a client will receive adequate health services.
Health providers must be sensitive to a person’s culture in order to gain the patient’s confidence and better understand how to provide treatment, she said.
“It goes beyond language, it’s cultural,” Mrs. Galindo-Dasilva said. “It’s being sensitive to people’s needs.”
MetroHealth requires that all employees, including physicians and translators, successfully complete cultural awareness and sensitivity training every year, Mrs. Galindo-Dasilva said.
Dr. Jane Delgado, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Washington, D.C.-based National Alliance for Hispanic Health, said another obstacle is the lack of insurance.
“The issue of stigma, while a reality for all people, has been overplayed,” Ms. Delgado told AVOXXI News reporter Hope Gillette in a 2013 interview. “More immediate barriers are the lack of bilingual and bicultural mental health professionals and the inability to pay for treatment and, when necessary, for medications.
“When the American Psychological Association did a survey several years ago they found that Hispanics were willing to go to treatment but they lacked access to a bilingual and bicultural mental health professional that they could afford.”
Nearly 33 percent of Latinos under the age of 65 have no health coverage, according to the Center for Disease Control.
In Ohio, 22 percent of non-elderly Latinos are uninsured, a higher rate than blacks, 20 percent and whites, 14 percent. In Michigan, 16 percent of non-elderly Latinos lack health coverage.