Grant supports latino mental health

A 1.18 million dollar grant has been given to the Latino Service Providers (LSP), in collaboration with Sonoma State University, to help with Latino mental and behavioral health. 

Francisco Vazquez, a Hutchins Professor and the director of the Hutchins Institute for Public Policy, is heading the Testimonios program and will use Latino cultural practices as a form of mental health treatment. 

The California Reducing Disparities Project Grant, funded by the California Department of Health, has allocated LSP, a nonprofit organization, a six year grant that will train 16-20 high school students, who are participating in the community health work program at Santa Rosa Junior College, to become mental health advocates. 

“There is a severe lack of bilingual-bicultural mental health workers,” said Vazquez, “And there are many resources that go unclaimed because many Latinos don’t know these resources exist.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, from 2008-2012 only 7.3 percent of Hispanics received health services compared to 16.6 percent of white adults. 

Vazquez lists Latino based practices such as forms of music, dance and theater, as ways of mental health treatment for Latinos in Sonoma County.

Students who are selected to be in the program will have to go through a 10 month training process; at its conclusion, will allow the students to interact with state and LSP evaluators to communicate with cultural practitioners such as artists, Aztec dancers, musicians and poets to collect data from their own communities.

“It is well known that cultural practices are the lifeblood of any community in the world,” said Vazquez. “Each cultural group derives meaning, energy, incentive and motivation from activities that have endured for centuries.”

Wanda Tapia,executive director of LSP, a nonprofit organization located in Sonoma County,  has been serving the Latino community for 27 years and currently has over 1,300 active members.

“We connect, advocate, educate and inform our members regarding issues relevant to the Latino community,” said Tapia. “We provide ‘real time’ information on mental health services, healthcare, low cost dental services, publish jobs for the bilingual workforce, distribute educational information on literacy, family, children, teen and young adults.”

Tapia also referred to the common idea that there is not enough bilingual mental health providers offering services. However, she also notes that Latinos do not seek these services enough.

“A 2001 Surgeon General’s report found that only 20 percent of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder talk to a doctor about their concerns,” said Tapia. “The positive news is there is a solution as I believe our project will expose more of our community to solutions to overcome the barriers which may limit access to these services.”

Vazquez and LSP hope to have students enrolled in the Testimonios program by late 2017.