Mental health survey highlights disparities in Spanish-speaking communities

Although the majority of the public experienced mental health impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most Spanish speakers in Santa Barbara County reported no negative impacts, according to a county behavioral wellness assessment. 

Behavioral Wellness Chief of Strategy and Community Engagement Susan Grimmesey presented these differences and the general need for more universal care at the March 1 county Board of Supervisors meeting.

“We know that globally and nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on people’s mental health and created unique challenges,” Grimmesey told the supervisors.

click to enlarge Mental health survey highlights disparities in Spanish-speaking communities
BREAKDOWN : This graph analyzed the difference between the English-speaking (blue) and Spanish-speaking (orange) communities' help seeking behavior when it comes to mental health needs.

About 5,000 people completed the survey—which was led by a community wellness team made up of more than 35 collaborating agencies and received $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. It took 10 to 15 minutes to finish and looked at demographics, childhood experiences, mental health impacts, stress and post traumatic stress, as well as resiliency and coping during the pandemic, Grimmesey said. 

The survey found that 65 percent of English speakers said their mental health was worse, whereas 67 percent of Spanish speakers said the pandemic had no impact on their mental health, Grimmesey said. This alarmed 2nd District Supervisor Das Williams because of COVID-19’s impact on Latino communities. 

“This is interesting since all trends statewide show the disproportionate effect the pandemic’s had on Latinos in terms of outcomes and deaths. Life expectancy dropped two years. Understanding why people who are dying in much higher numbers reporting no change is important to understand,” Williams said.

Grimmesey responded by showing data collected about “help-seeking behavior,” which showed the difficulties that Spanish-speaking communities faced in finding proper resources and their resistance to seeking help. 

Almost 60 percent of Spanish speakers said they handled their problems on their own, more than 40 percent said they didn’t know where to go for help, 40 percent said they were too embarrassed to seek help, and 35 percent said they didn’t want friends or family to know they needed help, she explained. 

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino praised these findings as well and wanted to see more support for Spanish and Mixteco-speaking communities.

“It highlights how we have to be culturally sensitive and culturally aware that people are experiencing the same thing as their neighbor, but viewing it in a different manner. They are downplaying the impact on them when we know it costs people jobs and puts strain on people,” Lavagnino said. 

Part of the survey asked participants to suggest what they needed. 

“People wanted easy ways to interact with one another, quick access to mental health services and support, and education on symptoms and coping strategies to reduce stigma,” she added. 

A potential solution includes a tiered approach, Grimmesey said—with universal resources at the bottom reaching everyone, and more focused intervention and support moving up each step, with the most complex situations at the top 

“We need a balanced triangle and balanced resources, that’s why partnerships are so important. Lower levels are essential to keep higher levels balanced. When it’s not balanced, certain levels begin to bulge,” she said. 

Unbalanced levels lead to inadequate services and resources, and ultimately won’t meet the individualized needs of community members, Grimmesey said. 

In the survey, people asked for more community events that could facilitate socialization and connection, which Grimmesey said would be easy for the county to implement. Behavioral Wellness will bring proposals back to the board in June and conduct a follow-up survey to see their impact, she added. 

“It’s well known that social connection and cohesion with disaster recovery is critical for community and individual resiliency. We’re talking about pandemic recovery now, but we are setting up a system that will work four or five years from now,” she said.

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