Healthcare Foundation

Celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by Understanding the Critical Disparities in Mental Health

By Malinalli López and Dr. Michael Valdovinos

Each year, Americans in the U.S. observe National Latinx Heritage Month, also known as  Latino or Hispanic Heritage Month, from September 15 to October 15. The celebration of cultures from the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America honors the histories and cultural contributions of those whose ancestors and families are from these rich and culturally diverse regions.

September 15 is important because it is the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively.

Yet even as the celebrations are a way to honor and remember the contributions of our Latinx communities and ancestors, our country’s largest ethnic/racial minority group continues to suffer many disparities in health, including barriers to accessing mental health services.

As Dr. Teresa Chapa, Dean of the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, has written,

“[D]espite our presence and strength in numbers, we are facing a crisis in knowledge of, access to and the use of mental healthcare. Latinos are overrepresented in many of the most vulnerable populations, including the poor, children, elderly and the uninsured. Conversely, we are overwhelmingly underrepresented among mental health professionals, leaving those who prefer to communicate in Spanish without needed culturally and linguistically competent mental health professionals.”

We recently had the opportunity to speak with one of our Board Members of the Healthcare Foundation, Michael Valdovinos, who enlightened us with some tools for imagining a better model to reach vulnerable populations in our home of Sonoma County and among the Latinx community.

Dr. Michael Valdovinos was born and raised in Sonoma County. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran, board-certified clinical psychologist, and trained organizational psychologist with 12 years of broad domestic and international experience in the nonprofit and private sectors, government, and academia. Michael graduated from UC Davis and The School of Professional Psychology, earning a bachelor’s degree in Chicano Studies and a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology. Michael is one of few licensed psychologists in the country who have earned board certification in behavioral and cognitive psychology.

Dr. Valdovinos shared a model he dubbed “embedded mental health,” in which mental health services take place in underserved neighborhoods. An embedded approach helps Latinos overcome access barriers such as lack of transportation and childcare by creating proximity between residents and services.

Dr. Valdovinos envisions a model where healthcare teams located in Latinx neighborhoods reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the neighborhood. This type of programming could be supported by various funding streams, including those from federal, state and local sources, in order to ensure sustainability.

Finally, this type of program should include staff that are well trained and who follow best evidence-based practices. Staff should also be adept in practices that foster robust community engagement, with culturally aware and sensitive care that is tailored to members of the Latinx community. Being treated by medical professionals who reflect their cultural diversity, preferred language, values, and principles is important.

When it comes to healthcare in Sonoma County in 2021, rising to the many challenges in health disparities facing the Latinx community means more than offering information in Spanish; it means impacting the social determinants of well-being by, among other things, embracing our cultural and ethnic diversity through principles and practices of deep community engagement.

This is one important way we can truly honor and celebrate our diverse Latino/Latinx communities.

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Joel Lewis

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