July 31, 2021

Treating covid-related anxiety: 1 cultural approach doesn't fit all

During the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care experts have discussed the anxiety people feel about the coronavirus and the importance of caring for one’s mental health.

But for people who can’t speak English and/or who are unemployed and undocumented, connecting with mental health resources can be challenging.

“The costs are just outrageous,” Sylvia Acosta, family advocacy manager at the Spanish Community Center in Joliet, said.

Acosta said even the sliding scale fees are often too costly for people who are “paying out of pocket.”

Yet even if all the right mental health resources were available, Hispanics still might not seek out care.

“Mental health is something that is very stigmatized in the Latino community unfortunately,” Acosta said.

Especially for me, she said.

“It’s a cultural thing,” Diana Almazan, the center's’s food pantry manager. “Women will seek out help more than the men.”

Nevertheless, the pandemic has caused anxiety and depression in many of the center’s clients, Acosta said.

In addition to their fear of contracting the virus, clients are also anxious about finances as bills pile up and landlords threaten to evict them, especially if they have children at home, Acosta said.

Recently the center had to make arrangements for hospital care for someone who was suicidal, she said.

To address the mental health concerns, the center has made a couple of partnerships.

The center has partnered with couple of agencies that has Spanish-speaking staff and is able to offer a reasonable sliding scale fee, Acosta said.

The other, thanks to private donors who wanted to help out in this area, is a partnership with a life coach in Mexico, Acosta said.

Each week for eight weeks, select clients are able to come to the center and “visit” with the coach via a television in a separate classroom to ensure privacy, Acosta said.

“Once those clients finish up [with the current session], we can’t start a new one,” Acosta said.

Although life coaching isn't the same as counseling, clients are still learning strategies for coping. And because the life coach is from Mexico, the coach understands the cultural nuances.

For instance, people in the U.S. stress individuality and independence when making decisions, while people who have grown up in Hispanic culture see their family as “everything,” Almazan said.

So while a statement like, “You’re 18. You should move out of the house,” might resonate with people born and raised in the U.S., it won’t register with Latino families, Almazan said.

“They tend to stick together, to have more of an intergenerational household.” Almazan said. “You have grandparents living with grandchildren; we don’t tend to separate. And if someone did separate, it causes a big riff in the families.”

Almazan said her white friends don’t always understand why she still checks with her mother before making social plans.

“They say, ‘Why not just go out without permission?’” Almazan said. “I say, ‘I can’t. I need to tell my mom. If I don’t, it will cause a big issue.”