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Growing GA Latino population faces mental-health service gaps

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Monday, November 6, 2023   

More than 1 million Latinos call Georgia home but the growing community faces an alarming gap in finding and using mental health services.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported fewer Hispanic and Latino individuals seek help. It may be because of language barriers, poverty or just not feeling comfortable with cultural differences.

Belisa Urbina, executive director of the nonprofit Ser Familia, which offers social services to Spanish-speakers in the Metro Atlanta area, said fewer than 100 licensed mental health professionals in Georgia speak Spanish, which affects the quality of care even when interpreters are available.

"Most times, this interpreter changes from one appointment to the other," Urbina explained. "And also, if you're using an interpreter, then you're not providing an hour of counseling. You're providing maybe 30 minutes, at best."

Urbina emphasized although some Latinos prefer English for daily communication, they may struggle to discuss specific incidents or emotions. She noted the pandemic only heightened the need for mental health support, with suicidal thoughts tripling among Latino children as young as eight.

Urbina pointed out one challenge is the cost of professional certification for mental health providers. She observed many people who receive the necessary education cannot get the credentials to practice due to a lengthy and expensive process. Ser Familia hopes to help make access easier by increasing the number of practitioners through other measures.

"We are establishing a project in which we hopefully are going to bring to Georgia students from universities in Puerto Rico that are ready to do hours," Urbina outlined. "They can do their practicum here, and the hours are going to be counted in Puerto Rico."

Urbina hopes in the future, it will be easier for people to get the credentials they need in the mental health field. But she added there is a lot of work to be done to improve health equity for minority populations, especially if they don't speak English as their first language.


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