Story at a glance
- The Latinx community of the U.S. is consistently underserved, leaving them vulnerable to untreated mental health concerns.
- Experts break down the short-term solutions governments can shift funds toward.
As the coronavirus pandemic has further underscored the socioeconomic gaps in access to health care, it has simultaneously revealed the U.S. Latinx community faces greater jeopardy for contracting a fatal coronavirus infection. Yet, despite the data emerging, Latinx communities and other minority groups suffer from a lack of accessibility to key resources needed to combat the adverse effects of the coronavirus pandemic, especially regarding mental health.
For Margarita Alegria, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the chief of the Disparities Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, COVID-19 has “catapulted disparities in health outcomes center stage” in a manner similar to other natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Maria.
As Latinx communities suffer from a historically low unemployment rate and are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, Alegria points out that their mental health is also at risk, and due to the risk of becoming a Public Charge or deportation, Latinx individuals are less likely to seek help for fear of exposing sensitive personal information. This leaves them with “tremendous anxiety.”
While rates of mental illness tend to be lower for Latinx populations than for non-Latinx whites, Alegria notes that the Latinx population has “greater severity and consequences of mental health illness.”
The best way to combat a mental health crisis among the Latinx people? Organize resources to address the psychological needs of the Latinx population, says Alegria. Strengthening the social safety net to improve feelings of security regarding the government’s responses to the needs of minority communities is crucial. “Minority communities sometimes feel they have been abandoned in terms of getting resources to them,” Alegria explained.
“Offering psychological preparedness is vital,” Alegria said. “How governments react, the types of public policies, the types of work they do for the labor markets...are going to have tremendous impacts in what can happen” for the mental health of Latinx communities.
Short-term solutions to provide Latinx communities support are rooted in outreach efforts. Alegria described specific solutions to organize mental health services, including creating mobile teams, crisis intervention units and functioning community clinics with access to resources for treatment options.
This includes providing assistance for basic tasks from helping fill out unemployment insurance applications, case work to help with housing problems and providing bilingual community health services to bridge the linguistic gap that could deter non-English speaking Latinx individuals.
“We have the opportunity now to reach people where they are and offer them a combination of psychosocial intervention, case management, and social determinants” to reduce barriers to health service disparities, she explained.
The long-term solution is more policy-oriented, she added; trying to move more funding to community-based organizations for innovative services like telehealth is a promising path forward, and providing reimbursement for these services will keep resources centered on the Latinx community.
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