Let’s talk about the mental health of Latinos

From left to right: Isabel Allende, Teresa Molina and Josana Tonda

The University of Utah’s University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) has long been a bridge for education access, convening partnerships between Salt Lake City’s west side communities and the university. Much of the work they do includes collaborating with residents from immigrant backgrounds to navigate the often complex health care system.

“We know that the Utah Latino population grew 78% from 2000 to 2010,” said Teresa Molina, associate director at UNP. “But we don’t have enough professionals who speak Spanish to serve them—especially for mental health, suicide prevention and substance use. There are gaps in terms of education, workforce and the population in need of these services.”

This month, Molina traveled to Mexico City to participate in the Mexico-United States Migrant Health Forum. The event brought together experts in the health field from the World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, universities and other health organizations and agencies across the U.S. and Mexico to discuss strategies in addressing health challenges that Latino communities are facing in the U.S.

“It is significant that we were invited and represented at this forum because it means we are being recognized for the unique ways we’ve been able to connect service providers and education entities to develop solutions,” said Molina. “They acknowledge the value of our work and see how our local strategies to foster culturally and linguistically responsive interventions to fill the gaps could be used internationally.”

UNP is helping breach disconnections between residents who don’t yet understand how to navigate health systems to service providers and other community residents who are providing solutions.

“Through the Mexico Consulate in Salt Lake City’s Ventanilla de Salud, Spanish-speakers are able to receive free preventative health measures,” said Molina. “They can get vaccinations, screenings and referrals if they need the services of community health clinics or the larger health system. We want to ensure community members know about these services and take it even one step further to empower Latinos to make their own informed health decisions through education,” said Molina.

Molina said there are numerous barriers to services for non-English speakers, but there are also many community members who are organizing and building their own nonprofits such as Latino Behavioral Health Services and Comunidades Unidas to provide services in Spanish and other languages.

“It’s incredibly valuable when we have community residents offering these important health services,” said Molina. “They’re able to communicate more effectively and provide both cultural and linguistic responsive services that you wouldn’t find at most medical facilities.”

Molina hopes to continue increasing the number of bilingual providers and move the global conversation forward so more people receive the health services they need.