September 27, 2008
A shaky economy, the threat of immigration raids and deportations, and rising health care concerns are taking a toll on the mental health of many Latino families.
In North Texas, especially, where the population has swelled with an influx of immigrants, health care providers are seeing a dire need for more mental health services.
"We're seeing a lot of financial pressure, a lot more vocational job loss, and it's trickling down to the family unit," said Dr. Misty Solt, a licensed professional counselor and the director of a new mental health clinic at the Southern Methodist University campus in Plano.
The SMU Center for Family Counseling, at 5228 Tennyson Parkway, will offer mental health services at a reduced cost.
The clinic is an integral part of the university's master's degree in counseling program. One of the degree requirements is practical experience.
Graduate students who have completed most of the academic work will serve as counselors under the direct supervision of licensed faculty and staff.
Many of the students are bilingual – a skill highly sought in our increasingly bicultural region.
Tony Picchioni, director of the Dispute Resolution Program, said the university is aware of the growing need for bilingual counselors and the impact that culture has on mental health.
"Culture is one of the major drivers of therapy," Dr. Picchioni said. "No course today can be monolithic. It has to reflect the dynamism of a pluralistic society."
But today's aspiring counselors also will have other factors to deal with, as worries over the economy grow.
"We're seeing a lot more anxiety and depression" among all groups, Dr. Solt said. "It must be at an all-time high."
She's also seeing a lot of child-rearing issues, especially among pre-adolescents 9 to 12, who often push the boundaries set by their traditional parents.
And people are turning to traditional coping mechanisms that can be highly destructive, such as substance abuse. They also can end up using the Internet excessively in trying to escape from their anxiety.
For Latino youths, they can even turn to suicide, as a new federal study shows.
The report, released this summer, concluded that Hispanic teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than their white and black classmates.Rarely do Latinos think of turning to a therapist during stressful times. More often, like so many Americans, they're more likely to seek help from their priests or pastors.
That's one of the reasons the SMU clinic has spent several weeks building relationships with local churches.
"We're leaning on them to help us build thrust there," Dr. Solt said.
Jenny Gomez, a licensed therapist who is with the St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, said many Latinos may feel shame in seeking out a counselor.
"Sometimes, there's a stigma about asking for help," she said. "We hope they embrace it and see it as a compassionate environment."
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