In their first in-person event in over a year due to the pandemic, Latinos In Action California hosted their Annual Women’s Conference on Saturday, March 20 where Latino health professionals advocated for mental health resources for the Latino community.
Titled Renacer: Fe, Gratitud Y Resiliencia (Faith, Gratitude and Resilience), Latinos in Action California founder, Martha Cota wanted the conference to focus on mental health and the emotional well-being of the Latino community after seeing the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on them.
See Related: Latinos in Action California to host conference focusing on mental health for Latino community in late March
“Resiliency is very important in these times,” she said to the Signal Tribune in late February. “We know that many of our families have been affected, they have lost a loved one or a close friend and we want this time to be a rebirth, a new era, a new opportunity.”
According to Long Beach city data from March 2021, Latinos make up 42% of the city’s population and 37% of COVID-19 cases, making this group one of the most impacted by the virus.
Women, who made up most of the audience at the conference, make up 51% of the COVID-19 cases in Long Beach.
These disparities as well as the lack of human interaction for the past year have taken its toll on the mental health of the community, making them big talking points in the workshops.
Artistic Director for Bienestar y Alegria, Raquel Gendry, brought a touch of laughter with her animated workshop tackling mental wellness.
She broke the ice by acknowledging that for her and for many in attendance this was probably the first time they were gathering due to social distancing guidelines and how anxiety-inducing that could be.
“The idea is [..] that here we learn to manage our emotions, to smile despite the difficulties,” Gendry said in Spanish.
Using humorous props, such as a hat in the shape of the stool emoji to signify negative thoughts, Gendry encouraged attendees to be mindful and present, two of the most important themes in her presentation.
“Worldwide we’ve discovered that we are fragile, that we are vulnerable, and that today we’re here and perhaps tomorrow we aren’t,” she said referring to living life with a different perspective, especially living through the pandemic.
Dr. Jorge Partida, chief of psychology at the L.A. County Department of Mental Health spoke about barriers the Latino community faces when it comes to mental health services.
According to Partida, although Latinos make up about half of the population of Los Angeles, they are also the group less likely to use mental health services provided by the county.
“It’s not okay on our part,” Partida said. “But the county also takes responsibility because maybe we need to do a better job to make sure that our community receives the necessary services.”
In 2020, LA County’s Department of Mental Health partnered with the UCLA Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence, to launch an effort where a team of 150 Spanish-speaking promoters partnered with clinicians to ensure that Latinos getting COVID-19 tests were also connected with mental health resources.
Partida acknowledged that there are barriers preventing Latinos from seeking mental health services, including stigma, something that can be passed down through generations.
According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness report, other barriers include language, poverty and less health insurance coverage and legal status.
The same report said that approximately 35% of Hispanic/Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment compared to the U.S. average of 45%.
Partida told attendees that although the Latino community is more prone to overcome trauma they are also more prone to never speak about it, making them more vulnerable as a community.
“We’re all like a bottle,” Partida said. “We have a certain capacity and that’s it. At a given moment, we keep in so much that the bottle overflows and that’s specifically what has happened to us this year.
“We have had so many losses, our loved ones have been sick, our loved ones have died, our children have stayed home to learn for almost a year now and parents have taken on the responsibility of being teachers using technology like Zoom, that we’re not familiar with.”
Partida noted that Latinos make up 37% of the county’s deaths due to COVID-19 and 48% of positive cases. As of the week of March 22, the County of Los Angeles Public Health listed 335 Latino deaths due to COVID-19 per 100,000 compared to white counterparts listed at 118 deaths.
“It is important for us to process what this means for us as part of the Latino community,” he said. “The things that give us perseverance, the things that help us be resilient, we don’t really have access to them,” Partida said referring to things that culturally Latinos tend to turn to, such as church and family.
Partida urged those in attendance to take care of their mental health during the pandemic and reach out to the L.A. County Department of Mental Health if they need assistance.
For more information on mental health services provided by the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, you can call (800)854-7771, text the crisis (LA to 741741), or visit the website at dmh.lacounty.gov