Martha Saucedo, MSW ’10, LCSW is a Behavioral Health Consultant at Access Community Health Centers. This post originally appeared on the NAMI Dane County Blog.
By Martha Saucedo
The COVID-19 pandemic has been part of our life for almost four months. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations around the country, including in Wisconsin, have sadly bore the brunt of the disease. In fact, per the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Latinx community has experienced 29% of confirmed cases and deaths, which is the highest BIPOC group affected.
The reason those numbers are so high is largely systemic, as BIPOC populations often have to deal with social inequities in greater numbers and thus are more affected by the by-products of the pandemic – like job losses and access to care. It is a systemic issue that hasn’t been wholly addressed, however there are agencies in Dane County working hard to address this reality.
The high number of COVID-19 cases among BIPOC populations has also led to an increased number of people requiring treatment for mental health issues.
For people who already have a behavioral health issue, like depression, anxiety or substance use disorder, the fear of COVID-19 or being exposed to it and bringing it home to their family, can have a negative effect on their overall wellness. This is the case even if they were previously in recovery or had well-managed mental health prior to the pandemic.
There has also been an increase in a new onset of mental health concerns. These are directly impacted by numerous psychosocial stressors, including more and more people experiencing job loss, financial strain, food insecurity, and housing insecurity. Job losses are especially high among the food service industry and hospitality workers, which are industries that are heavily employed by the Latinx community.
The most vulnerable people are losing their jobs, or they are on standby until things start opening up again. They are in limbo and are not sure if work will be available for them when things open up again. Insecurity related to basic needs raises anxiety and increases depression if they do not know when and if they will find another job in the midst of this pandemic to support themselves and/or their families.
The problem we are experiencing is that, as is often the case with behavioral health issues, many people are afraid to seek help or are uncertain where to access available supports. We are actively working to reduce stigma and empower people to access needed behavioral health services.
For the Latinx community in particular, there is a misconception about mental health issues. Many people don’t identify their current symptoms as being mental health related. Thus, it is important for agencies and providers to be aware that we need to engage in cultural humility and be curious when engaging with our Latinx patients. Ensuring that additional time is taken to ask questions related to mental health and wellness to fully assess any unspoken needs.
It is often challenging for Latinx patients to open up and lead with mental health concerns, but that does not mean they aren’t present. Instead, an increased focus on screening and intervening related to stressors and mental health symptoms is needed now more than ever in the context of the pandemic and longstanding social inequities impacted by systemic racism.
It’s going to take more of an effort from our profession, from people who know about mental health issues, to help BIPOC populations facing the struggles of the pandemic and mental health issues resulting from them. We need to let people know that there is hope, there are places to find help, there is education available, and we are here to help provide those resources to them.
I am proud to be a Behavioral Health Consultant at Access Community Health Centers, an organization devoted to improving the health and lives of our patients. Access is committed to reducing health disparities and promoting wellness in our patients and community. We need to provide resources to vulnerable populations, with care that is culturally appropriate and sensible enough to be mindful of other social determinants of health and collectively partner to promote wellness. Access Community Health Centers has bilingual providers and qualified interpreters to fulfill a service that is given with quality, dignity and empowerment for the patient.
I am also involved with other mental health providers in our community to help those who are already reaching out to our local Latinx social service provider for help. What we’re offering them is the ability to talk to someone and receive assistance to navigate towards other available community supports whether that is for financial assistance or mental health services. Access Community Health Centers is one of the champion agencies locally providing care to those who need healthcare to promote physical and emotional health and wellness.
We need to inform people that there are resources and places they can find help during this extraordinary time. The anxiety and stressors caused by the pandemic are real, and it’s ok to ask for help. The agencies in our community are there to help support those in need at this time and address any behavioral issues individuals may be experiencing. Our goal is to give people the tools and information they need and support in finding that assistance.
In Dane County, a fund was created, called the Latino Consortium for Action. It is an emergency relief fund supported by the community for people affected by COVID-19. This is a place for people who have lost their jobs or small business owners who had to close because of restrictions because of the pandemic. They can call and their case will be evaluated, and help can be provided.
It’s a way that the community has come together to help relieve the stress and anxiety that has affected a particular BIPOC population during the pandemic. It’s through creative supports like the Latino Consortium for Action that we can help all of our BIPOC groups affected by the pandemic and address the mental health issues they are experiencing.