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Mental Health Access Is Lacking for Oregon’s Growing Latinx Community, Study Shows

Oregon's mental health workforce is already sparse, and the new report shows that the numbers of bilingual and Latinx providers are also insufficient.

A new report on Oregon's mental health care access shows that Spanish speakers make up 10% of licensed mental health providers and Latinx providers make up only 3%. As of 2016, Latinx people made up 12% of the state's population.

The report, released Thursday by the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs, analyzes 30 years of data and offers suggestions on how to improve equity and access to mental health services for the Latinx community.

It reveals that the licensed mental health providers who speak Spanish are also not equally spread throughout the state, leaving some areas without any. This makes it challenging for Spanish speakers to seek quality care where they can effectively communicate their needs.

Even if a provider speaks Spanish, Latinxs may still run into cultural barriers because the community is so diverse, and depending on what region of a country they're from, words and body language may have different interpretations, making it harder for them to deeply connect with a therapist and effectively improve their mental health. Plus, many websites in Oregon are only written in English.

Even for those who can access a Spanish-speaking professional, they may still run into other cultural differences and struggle with communication because of the diverse community within the Latinx population.

A majority of these Oregonians' country of origin is Mexico, where many Indigenous languages are spoken. Other countries and regions of origin include Cuba, Central America and Puerto Rico, all countries with varying historical backgrounds.

An Oregon mental health care provider quoted in the report says: "The experience of accessing mental health services through a translator really impacts the accessibility of the services. Many choose to not even start services, or if they do try it, they will only go once or twice and then disengage."

Another provider says: "I have to lean more on my culture to understand how to talk to elders, what kinds of words are triggering. We don't use the word 'anxiety.' It does not make sense to families."

The Latinx population has experienced unique trauma as a result of the political climate for the past four years, with children being separated from their families and the constant fear of deportation, causing lasting devastation. This means equitable access to mental health services is more critical than ever.

However, the report points out one reason the Latinx community might be hesitant to try and access mental health care is the fear that someone may discover their immigration status and they could risk deportation or detention, which in turn increases stress levels even more.

"This unjust and possibly illegal detainment will leave lasting psychological scars on the children and their families," the report concludes. "It brings together the virus and justice catastrophes of 2020."