Confronted with Multiple Crises, Latinos Draw Upon Culture and Community (Enfrentando múltiples crisis, los latinos recurren a la cultura y a la comunidad)

October 14, 2020
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By: Roxana Hernandez, MPH; Shayla Anderson, MPH, CHES; Victoria Chau, Ph.D., MPH; Larke Huang, Ph.D., SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity

National Hispanic Heritage Month invites us to celebrate the Latinx community. The Year 2020 has been a challenging year and a difficult one to celebrate. The COVID-19 pandemic, opioid and suicide epidemics, an economic slowdown with widespread unemployment, and racial unrest simultaneously impact the nation yet affect the Latinx community especially hard. Collectively, these crises exacerbate the behavioral health concerns for this community. A recent CDC study found that Hispanics have a higher prevalence of symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders, COVID-19–related trauma and stress-related disorders, suicidal ideation and increased substance use compared to all other non-Hispanic groups. The study also found 18.6% of Hispanic respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the past month, and 52% reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health symptom, exceeding all other population groups. Among COVID-related deaths among persons younger than 21 years old, 45% were Hispanic.

Latinx individuals are at increased risk and exposure to COVID-19. They are more likely to be employed in service industries and as essential workers—often lacking the option to telework and at higher risk for unemployment—than other populations. The pandemic has starkly revealed the disparities in access to health and behavioral health care among the Latinx community due to lack of insurance, lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate care, stigma, and transportation issues. Lack of access to technology for teleservices and concerns about policies such as the public charge law, which is perceived as risking eligibility for citizenship or permanent residency, also impede access to care.

In spite of these compounding crises, the Latinx community continues to show strength and resiliency – these are reasons to celebrate. For example:

  1. Effective interventions developed for, and by Latinx behavioral health professionals are especially relevant in this time of multiple stressors. Familia Adelante, a Latinx-focused family strengthening intervention, offered in Spanish, virtually or in family groups, builds resilience, and acculturation and prevention strategies for adolescent substance use and other risky behaviors. Life is Precious is a suicide prevention intervention geared for Latina adolescents and young adults. Both interventions are relevant for behavioral health issues associated with the pandemic.
  2. A Latinx behavioral health workforce, including promotoras, responds to the unique needs of their culture and community by developing community-driven engagement strategies to address community crises, such as the opioid epidemic. Some of these strategies are highlighted in SAMHSA’s issue brief, The Opioid Crisis and the Hispanic/Latino Population: An Urgent Issue, also recently released in Spanish.
  3. Latinx-serving community-based organizations (CBOs), such as the Mary's Center, practice their social change model, which integrates primary care, behavioral health care, education, and social services, in language, to maximize good health, stability, and economic independence. A full-service center under one roof, they now offer telehealth services for staff and clients' safety.
  4. National advocacy and policy entities, such as the National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA), provide critical information to the community, e.g., Facebook live sessions on Latino well-being during COVID, institutional racism, trauma and healing, suicide prevention, etc. NLBHA operates SAMHSA’s National Hispanic and Latino Addiction Technology Transfer Center and National Hispanic and Latino Prevention Technology Transfer Center to build the workforce and the substance use prevention and treatment system to better serve the Latinx population across the country. SAMHSA’s National Hispanic and Latino Mental Health Technology Transfer Center provides training and technical assistance to improve the behavioral health workforce capacity for those serving the mental health needs of Latinx communities.

Communication, information, and social support are critical. Amid multiple crises, in-language communication may be lifesaving. Faith-based organizations and leaders are often trusted sources of information in Latinx communities. During the pandemic, virtual sermons, bible studies, and gatherings have provided cultural and spiritual support to provide hope and a sense of community to counter fear, anxiety, and social isolation. SAMHSA offers many useful resources in both English and Spanish, including items created to address current COVID-19 concerns. Some of these include:

Visit the SAMHSA Store for more Spanish-language products.

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