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Some Southwest Floridians say Spanish speaking mental health help is tough to find

Many Spanish speakers say they would prefer to get such sensitive support in their native language
Posted at 5:49 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 17:49:21-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — In many ways, Danny and Miriam Gonzalez have lived the American dream.

They've worked hard, raised their two children, and now own their own home.

But there's one challenge they didn't see coming.

"We used to laugh, we used to do jokes, we used to dance, we used to have reunions, we used to have all the friends hanging out," says Miriam.

"He loved to cook."

But she says all that changed as Danny struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression.

"I come home now and I see somebody who is just in his bed sleeping - the darkroom - saying, 'Thank God you got home," she says.

"It's sad," says Miriam.

"Yeah, it's true," adds Danny as he sits next to his wife.

"It's cost me so much," he says in Spanish.

"So much."

"He understands a little bit of English," says Miriam.

They say receiving mental health care in the language Danny understands best is very important.

She says they've even tried support groups that deal with the topic of mental health.

"But it's more intense," says Miriam - referring to the complexities of mental health.

"He couldn't catch everything."

"They're all in English, nothing in Spanish," she says.

She and Danny say even when they've sought out psychiatric doctors and nurses, it's been a challenge to find ones who speak Spanish.

"It's a scary situation - to be and feel - I don't have enough help to help him out better."

When they tried to find a bilingual counselor, the Lee county couple ended up one county over from where they live.

"The one we have now is in Port Charlotte," says Miriam.

"We Zoom now," she says - referring to their remote sessions with Tania Milagros Garcia with Back 2 Nature in Charlotte county.

To get a broader perspective for you, we reached out to the Coordinator for the Counseling Department at FGCU, Yaro Garcia.

She says the rising demand for bilingual counselors is part of a fairly recent cultural trend.

"Traditionally, Latinos, like other minority cultures in the U.S. saw seeking mental health services was almost like a luxury," says Garcia.

"And then this pandemic happened," she adds.

She says it's not just the stress of the pandemic.

She explains that the pandemic has forced different generations to spend more time together at home and that has changed attitudes toward seeking mental health.

"Many children of Latinos in the U.S. - these are American-born children - are teaching their parents about their mental health," says Garcia.

"Now what we're running into is that we do have more Latino people seeking mental health service, and we don't have enough providers," she adds.

Danny and Miriam's counselor, Tania Milagros Garcia, says the frustration some feel in finding bilingual counselors may have to do with insurance.

"Sometimes, when Spanish-speaking people are trying to access mental health, they find that some of us, the counselors, are still not in-network with their specific insurance which then can be a barrier," says Tania Garcia.

She says, in her practice, the answer is to offer a sliding pay scale to clients whose insurance doesn't include her.

She also says there's another resource for people to keep in mind.

"A lot of people don't know that indeed there are Spanish speaking counselors in the area and that they can access them through Telehealth."

The Spanish-language web version of Telehealth, run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also offers information on how you can get to and from your health appointments.

Danny and Miriam say they are grateful they have found the support their family needs.

They also want to make sure other families can do the same.

"It's really important if we can have more Spanish-speaking sessions - to explain not only the patient but to the family of the patient," says Miriam.

Yaro Garcia, with FGCU's Counseling Department, says getting help in Spanish may take some persistence.

"You can 'Google' for what you're looking for," she says.

She also says it's helpful to keep talking to people about what you're seeking.

And she recommends remaining hopeful as you are determined.

"The help is there," she says.

"Be prepared to make a lot of phone calls."