Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis Monday called for expanded mental health services — in partnership with faith-based organizations and community clinics — for immigrant communities suffering due to the coronavirus.
“As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the county of Los Angeles, we find our Latino immigrant and non-immigrant communities continuing to struggle,” Solis said during a morning news conference.
“According to the (U.S.) Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latinos are the hardest-hit group of coronavirus job losses with an 18.9% rate of unemployment. As you know, this statistic does not include our undocumented communities.”
The struggle to put food on the table for their families is creating psychological distress for many residents, and Solis said she wants to make certain everyone is aware of available county mental health resources.
The county’s Department of Mental Health is training community health workers, known by many Latinos as promotores de salud, to educate local residents about their options to get help.
“Wellness and recovery only happens if we have a culturally competent model of care,” Solis said.
She has filed a motion — to be considered by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday — to expand the department’s training of bilingual neuropsychologists and collaborate more broadly with community organizations to reach residents.
The Department of Mental Health is working together with churches and other faith-based organizations to reach immigrant communities who may be distrustful of government resources, worried about the potential for deportation or wary of the stigma associated with mental health treatment.
Jorge Partida, the department’s chief of psychology, also pointed to the outsize effect of COVID-19 on Latino communities.
“In the Latino community, we know that we are disproportionately impacted due to many factors, including overcrowding and living circumstances, lack of employment,” Partida said.
Many Latino residents are also essential workers who do not have the option of working from home, while many others lack medical insurance and access to quality mental health care.
Countywide, the highest number of confirmed COVID-10 cases and related deaths are found in the Latino population. Black and Latino residents are dying at the same rate per 100,000 people, which is nearly twice the rate of white residents.
If not treated now, related mental health problems could affect these families for years, mental health experts warned.
“We recognize that if we don’t deal with these preventative, easier-to-implement solutions now, our Latino community and other underserved communities will be seeing the full impact … in years to come by demonstrating more serious neuropsychological and psychological concerns,” Partida said.
“We have an obligation to mitigate this harm.”
Xavier Cagigas, associate director of the UCLA Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence, said health workers must overcome the stigma around mental health services in order to raise the level of “health literacy.”
“By reaching out to faith-based organizations, to churches, to synagogues, to mosques, to people who congregate together to worship, we’re able to find that inroad into the community,” Cagigas said.
“What we’ve been finding is it’s not just our most vulnerable community members that are incredibly burdened by everything that is changing in our lives with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and the social unrest in our society. But it’s also those faith-based organizations, those community-based clinics and organizations, the people who are tasked with reaching out that are also impacted.”
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