HOUSTON – People with mental illness in Hispanic and Latino communities face difficulties in obtaining help, including a language barrier, lack of health insurance, fear of immigration status, or a cultural belief that mental illness is a weakness.
âWe’re just busy, on the go, on the go, and sometimes we seem a little robotic, always working, being parents or being there for the family and we forget to take care of ourselves,â Samantha Toliver said.
Toliver is a wife, mother of four and a small business owner.
âIt wasn’t until I had kids – until they were toddlers, and I often felt anxious,â she said.
Toliver suffered from anxiety, depression, and a condition called depersonalization / derealization syndrome.
âBasically, this is where you disconnect, you feel like you are in a dream all day long,â Toliver said. “You just have to wait for your body to get the rest it needs and recharge and that’s basically what happened.”
That year, Toliver sought professional help.
âYou have to make sure that you take care of yourself mentally, as well as physically,â she said.
But, this is not the case in most Hispanic and Latin communities.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 34% of Hispanic adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, compared to an average of 45% in the United States.
âWhen you think about the kind of disparities associated with access, it becomes a real challenge, because it will only get worse if not addressed,â said Ezemenari Obasi.
Obasi is Associate Dean of Research at the College of Education, Professor and Founder and Director of the Health Research Institute at the University of Houston.
âIt can range from financial challenges faced, to lack of insurance coverage, to stigma, to fear of talking about personal issues,â Obasi said.
Another major challenge is the language barrier.
âThere is not always access to Spanish-speaking therapists or psychiatric providers for that matter,â said Veronica Cavazos of the Community Health Network.
Cavazos said mental illness is often overlooked in Hispanic and Latino homes.
“You don’t talk about it, we don’t talk about it,” Cavazos said. âThere is a negative stigma associated with mental health.
Because of this, Cavazos said it might be difficult to recognize the signs.
âIt’s only when things get too overwhelming that they aren’t able to function regularly that they finally seek treatment,â Cavazos said.
People can seek treatment at places like the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD. They have four locations in Houston.
âWe have four outpatient clinics in Harris County,â said Ana Philip, director of business operations. âWe have case managers, doctors, therapists who speak Spanish. “
Philip said it was important for individuals and their loved ones to start a conversation.
âWhat’s going on is something you feel that maybe wasn’t something before,â Philip said.
Experts hope to change perceptions of mental illness.
âUnderstanding that not being OK is perfectly fine and really understanding that there are resources and support available for people who may need that extra support,â said Philip.
Toliver thinks that talking about your struggle is a sign of bravery, not weakness.
âIf you don’t get help, it just spirals up, because it affects your whole life,â Toliver said.
The main sign of mental illness is feeling abnormal. Other signs include crying more often than normal, a change in appetite or sleep, and a lack of energy and motivation.
Here are the following resources for assistance:
– The Harris Center: https://www.theharriscenter.org/
– Community health network: https://mychn.org/services/bh/
– Texas Health and Social Services: https://www.hhs.texas.gov/services/mental-health-substance-use
– National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/
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