Hispanic Mental Health

Only 34 percent of the Hispanic population in the US with a mental illness receive treatment each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. The average across the country is 45 percent. What’s causing the difference? Some people point to stigma, cultural norms and language barriers. Others blame lack of insurance and misdiagnosis. Most experts say it’s a mix of all of these things.

Lucia Vargas is an Intake Hospital Diversion Specialist and Bilingual Therapist in the Central Access Department at Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority (SCCMHA), and she sees the same issues with Hispanics locally.

“It’s hard to get them engaged,” she explained, “especially the elderly. There is definitely a stigma to seeking our services. They’re used to keeping quiet about mental health. They don’t talk about it. They have an attitude of, ‘We take care of our own.’”

Vargas has been in Central Access since 2017 and with SCCMH

A since 2009. She provides services in both English and Spanish for a variety of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, grief and loss, anger management, post traumatic stress disorder and many others, and therapies include solution-focused, cognitive behavioral and motivational interviewing.

She currently has seven clients in the Bilingual Therapy Program and would like to increase that number. Another reason for hesitancy in seeking services, she said, is the fear of not having proper documentation on immigration status, which many Hispanics feel could lead to deportation. Vargas assures her clients that she’s not looking at their status. She’s simply trying to get them the help they need.

“It’s a challenge,” Vargas said. “I want people to know that we’re not trying to get them in trouble. We have services that can help, and they also don’t need to worry about how to pay. We have a grant that can assist them.”

In Saginaw, she provides treatment at the main SCCMHA building on Hancock and the Mexican American Council on Washington. Vargas also attends various health fairs and community events throughout the year to promote SCCMHA and its bilingual therapy services.

“We don’t judge,” she said. “I want to get word out to the Hispanic population that we’re here and we can help. And, mental health treatment is not how it used to be. We’re not focusing on hospitalization and drugs. We want to listen, and we want to provide the treatment people need.”

For more information on Hispanic Mental Health Services, contact SCCMHA at 800-258-8678.