In response to a growing body of data showing an increased need for COVID-19-related mental health services, LA County has announced specific resources for the Latino communities.
The County’s Department of Mental Health, in partnership with the UCLA Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence, is building up a team of 150 Spanish-speaking “promotores” – trusted messengers who will connect people with services. The messengers will work side-by-side with DMH clinicians to ensure vulnerable Latino communities are tested for COVID-19 and connected with improved and expanded mental health resources.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, data shows that the Latino community is one of the hardest-hit groups economically.
“Latinos make up significant portions of our hospitality, construction, and retail sectors of the labor market and comprise a large segment of LA County’s uninsured population,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Pro Tem Hilda L. Solis. “Our communities of color are unable to telecommute, and they will not be paid if they miss a day of work, which adds to their levels of stress. Too many Latinos lack access to quality mental health services, and through our partnership with UCLA, we are ramping up our services to individuals who are suffering silently.”
A survey by the Pew Research Center conducted in March found that the Latino community was more likely to say that they or someone in their household had experienced a pay cut or job loss due to COVID-19.
Economic burdens along with stress, isolation, and high infection rates, highlight the structural inequities impacting LA County’s Latinx communities.
“There is no stigma in seeking help from mental health professionals. It is a sign of strength, and I want everyone to know they can reach out to us if they are feeling overwhelmed by COVID-19,” Solis said.
Many Latinos in LA County are essential workers who do not have the option of working from home, which puts them at a higher risk of exposure to the virus. Even though a high number of Latinos work in the hospitality, construction, and retail sectors, many lack medical insurance and access to quality mental health care — adding to their anxiety and stress. In LA County, Latinx communities report the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the highest death rate.
“Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, both physically and mentally, and they need access to culturally appropriate mental health services to heal,” said Dr. Cynthia Telles, director of UCLA’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence. “We are partnering with faith-based organizations, churches, community clinics, and local health centers to reach individuals who may be reluctant to seek professional care.”
UCLA and DMH have established bilingual support groups for Latino parents of children with disabilities and mental disorders, such as autism and ADHD, as many of these families are struggling due to the pandemic. There are bilingual support groups for elderly persons and caregivers who are also more likely to be struggling at home during this time.
In addition to work in the community, UCLA has created resiliency training for DMH psychologists to support them in dealing with their own burnout and grief.
“LA County’s Department of Mental Health is proud to support this unique initiative that offers Latino immigrants and other underserved communities greater access to mental health services that will help them navigate this difficult time, while mitigating further harm in the future.” said Jorge Partida, PsyD, chief of psychology for LA County’s Department of Mental Health. “We are training clinicians, promotores and other mental health professionals to be more culturally attuned when meeting the needs of Latinos who are experiencing depression and higher levels of mental health stressors due to COVID-19. Our communities of color have been on the frontline of this pandemic. Acting now will reduce further disproportionate impact in the future.”
At the June 23 virtual Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board will vote on a motion authored by Supervisor Solis, and co-authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn, directing the County to improve and expand mental health care for underserved Latino communities.