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Mental health program aims to break down barriers for Hispanics

Stigma is a primary reason Hispanics say they don't seek mental health treatment. A program in El Paso is trying a different approach to reach them.
Mental health program aims to break down barriers for Hispanics
Posted at 3:11 PM, Nov 09, 2023

The latest numbers have found massive racial disparities in who seeks treatment for their mental health. Specifically, roughly a third of Hispanic adults receive treatment, compared with more than half of non-Hispanic white adults.

Researchers at the University of Texas-El Paso studied this and identified numerous barriers: logistical challenges, other more pressing issues, and simple stigma. To that end, they've developed a four-week mental health program designed particularly for Hispanic Americans.

"One of the things that our research set out to do was to look specifically at a border community," said Jason Mallonee, a professor at UTEP. "What we found, especially here in El Paso, is that there's a lot of collective traumas that are experienced."

SEE MORE: Mental health crisis: US depression rates reach all-time high

Mallonee's team interviewed 25 Hispanic adults, many in Spanish. The constant theme was stigma. 

One person said mental health was "something very taboo, something that is not needed if you are a man." Another said, "No one taught us to reach out." A third said they "went [to a psychologist] once and I'm embarrassed to tell my friends."

In response, Mallonee's team designed a four-week mental health program aimed at smashing barriers. It's a small group setting with different modules. 

In an early session, participants receive prompts to discuss culture and identity, but before they share out loud, they reflect on paper. The sessions are conducted in both English and Spanish. And, at least in this pilot stage, the group holds meetings at the building where they find their participants: the Kelly Center for Hunger Relief.

SEE MORE: Health care providers aim to reach Hispanic people in need of services

"Research also shows that food insecurity is associated with poorer mental health," Mallonee said. "So we're recruiting from the food pantry right now, because those are individuals who are likely are more likely to have an unresolved mental health."

The pilot program has funding in El Paso for a full year. They've applied for funding to expand to San Antonio. If it succeeds, it will do so by centering the culture of the community in question with an atmosphere and a process that remains open.

"We're treating community members as experts of their own lived experience," said Mallonee. "They are the experts. You know, I may have gone to school, but they're the experts in what their day-to-day life is."

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