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Training Sheds Light on Latino Health Care

Training Sheds Light on Latino Health Care

Session stresses role of culture in treating mental illnesses

By Sandra Baltazar Martínez

Sunday, June 19, 2011; The Santa Fe New Mexican

Nearly two dozen behavioral-health providers got some advice on better serving Hispanics and Latinos with mental health issues at a daylong training session last week in Santa Fe.

Fredrick Sandoval, executive operations manager with the nonprofit National Latino Behavioral Health Association, said health providers need to understand Hispanic culture to successfully treat patients.

The session was sponsored by OptumHealth New Mexico, a state contractor. The 22 participants received six continuing-education credit hours for their participation.

This is one of two pilot programs sponsored by OptumHealth. The contractor also will be offering training for providers who work with the LGBT community.

Sandoval, who was the Cultural and Linguistics Coordinator for the last year and a half of Gov. Bill Richardson's administration, said Hispanics have higher rates of alcoholism, pregnancy, suicide and drug use than Anglos. Providers "need to understand that when people come into their organization, they have to pay closer attention to these circumstances and offer Hispanics more resources, more services, " he said. "There is something about intervention that is not working for us."

In New Mexico, about 47 percent of Hispanics who need mental health services seek them, but only a few complete the treatment cycle, Sandoval said. During the presentation, he mentioned the importance of involving religion and family in the therapy. Both are key components in the healing process, he said.

Alfredo Garcia, dean of New Mexico Highlands University's School of Social Work, said he attended Wednesday's training because he's looking for new ideas and information to incorporate into the curriculum of the school's social-work master's degree program.

Five other social-work professors already have participated in the training, Garcia said. "A lot of that information I was aware of, but the way (Sandoval) presented it made a lot of sense, " he said, specifically noting the spiritual aspect of the culture.

Social-work students at Highlands' Albuquerque campus will be trained to work with Mexican immigrants and native New Mexicans, Garcia said.

Paul Rentz, a clinical psychologist in Santa Fe, said he decided to attend because he's interested in the process of acculturation.

The longer immigrants remain in this country, the more prone they are to having mental health issues, he said.

Sandoval said that's probably because assimilation comes at a high price. Immigrant mothers, for example, likely didn't have to leave their home to work in their country of origin. Here, their role changes.

Jana Spalding, OptumHealth New Mexico vice president of consumer and family affairs, said the Hispanic population is underserved. Cultural training helps providers "know how to interact with the Hispanic population in a way that is culturally appropriate, " she said. This is especially crucial because in many Hispanic families there is a stigma behind seeking mental health services, Spalding said.

Many people categorize depression as "sadness" and never look for help because they correlate therapy or visiting a psychologist with "being crazy, " she said.

"The problem is that there are people who remain 'sad' for 30 years. They lack the information, and the thought about feeling better never crosses their mind, " she said.