Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Rural areas are struggling to find bilingual mental health professionals

While rural areas continue to suffer a shortage of mental health professionals, the problem is compounded in areas where residents struggle with English, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. In states like Alaska—which has many Alaska Natives—and Arizona and New Mexico—where there are a high numbers of Navajo and Spanish speakers—it is even more difficult to find mental health professionals who can have a one-on-one intimate conversation with a patient.

"The importance of understanding, both linguistic and cultural, in mental health is often underrated, said Majose Carrasco of the National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA), which funds scholarships and outreach in New Mexico designed to help the state 'grow its own' mental health providers," Henderson writes. Carrasco told him, “I don’t know how many times people have said, ‘It’s fine; we’ll have the janitor translate,’ or ‘Her kids can translate.' If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you’re not going to want to say that and scare them. You’re going to want to say that everything’s OK—that they don’t have to worry.”

Some states, like California, "where nearly one in five residents had trouble with English, has created its own system of assessing shortages and is encouraging more bilingual therapists, while nonprofits have taken the lead in other states like New Mexico, Ohio and Texas," Henderson writes. One project in Alaska "translates mental health materials from English to the Inupiaq language spoken in northern Alaska so local volunteers can help assess progress in their communities."

The key is to recruit homegrown residents who are bilingual, Henderson writes. States like California, Texas and New Mexico have created programs that give scholarships or repay loans for bilingual students who study mental health. The problem, Carrasco says, is that when it comes to Latinos "not enough are finishing high school. Not enough are going to college. Those that do pursue higher education see a stigma in behavioral health fields.” (Stateline graphic)

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