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Mental Health Solutions For Latinxs? Tech Might Help

Photo by youssef naddam on Unsplash

ANYA SCHULTZ, HOST: Next week is the application deadline for a new challenge from the New York City Mayor’s office. To find tech-based solutions to address the mental health needs of the Latinx population. The need for mental health solutions has given the challenge a new level of importance. According to an analysis from city officials, the fatality rate of the Latinx community is twice as high as white New Yorkers. But as Cecily Mauran reports, mental health care, whether done through an app or in person it needs to be done right. (0:26)

CECILY MAURAN, BYLINE: When one of Raquel Ortiz Terron’s patients told her she wanted to kill her husband, she knew her patient didn’t really mean it…

RAQUEL ORTIZ TERRON: And I'm like, as a Latina, I know. She's ticked off. What did he do now? I'm not running to the phone to call 911 You know?

MAURAN: Terron is Therapist. She’s Clinical Director of Casa EstarBien, a behavioral health clinic that works with Latinx patients.

TERRON: And of course, at the end of the conversation, I'll reflect. I'm like, you know, in the beginning of our session, you made a comment. You said, Oh, I'm gonna have to kill my husband. What's that about? Ah, you know, I love that man. He's such a good man, you know.

MAURAN: Terron says it’s critical that healthcare providers have a deep understanding of the culture they’re working with.

TERRON: But you have to know that you have to know that Latinos, when they're angry, they talk loud, doesn't necessarily mean that, you know, they want to go in your face, but that they're very passionate about their feelings.

MAURAN: In order to understand how mental health technology might help the Latinx community Terron says it’s important to understand the unique obstacles the group faces. Like not being a native English speaker. Imagine opening up a mental health app and realizing it’s not in a language you can read. On top of that, there’s the group’s unique customs -

TERRON: I can speak Spanish. But if I'm not culturally sensitive, that person is not going to build a rapport with you. you have to address them, you know, an older woman, all my older women, and when I mean older, I mean, like, 60 and up, they're all called Donas. Dona Maria, Dona you know, Sylvia, whatever the men are called, Don you know and there is a level of respect when you speak to them like thatThat is exactly why I have patients that have been with me for you know 13, 14, 11, nine years why? Because there's no other place that provides them with culturally sensitive services.

MAURAN: Terron says her reaction to the City’s new tech challenge is mixed. It would be wonderful if people who struggle with mental health are provided with a device that can help them stay connected with loved ones and healthcare providers. But she says many of her patients are older, and would require training to navigate the tech.The city says its challenge is designed to address the needs of Latinx youth. But even for younger, tech savvy users, users there’s another challenge - financial access. Carmen Vazquez is a clinical psychologist in New York who specializes in Latin American mental health.

CARMEN VAZQUEZ: We must keep in mind that the reality of the economic situation is very important and we must be very aware of these possible problems.

MAURAN: According to a report from the city last year, the poverty rate of its hispanic residents is around 20 percent - more than double the percentage of white residents.

And, according to the Manhattan Institute, around a quarter of hispanic New Yorkers live in households that are overcrowded.

VAZQUEZ: Even if a child is able to have access to a device in a computer, tablet, that child might not have the privacy

MAURAN: Oscar Romero works with the city’s Chief Technology Officer. He helped to design the challenge. He says he knows you can’t just throw technology at a problem to solve it. Like giving out laptops to residents who might not have internet access. That’s why the challenge is specifically designed for LatinX teens. He says technology can be helpful even if not everybody can afford it. It just has to be put in the right places.

OSCAR ROMERO: But if you're talking about the teens, then the connectivity that they have access to is considerably higher, to a certain type of mobile devices and through certain types of venues when they go to school when they go to, through to public libraries.

MAURAN: The Latinx community has been hit hard by the pandemic. Romero says that makes the need for mental health solutions even more important.

ROMERO: Trying to remove those barriers and giving these communities the space. They deserve to have their voices heard.

MAURAN: The finalists of the challenge will be announced this summer. Cecily Mauran, Columbia Radio News.

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