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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Everyone deserves to feel heard

Take a moment to imagine what it would be like to begin a whole new life in a foreign country where only a small number of people speak your language and are willing to offer you guidance. Imagine leaving your home for this foreign country in hopes of escaping something terrible or finding employment so that you could better provide for your family, only to be treated as an undeserving burden once you arrive. Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality of many Latinos who have immigrated to the United States, and although we as a society have made great strides in attempting to support these individuals, there are still many issues that have yet to be effectively addressed. While I was humbled after witnessing various injustices, one problem that continued to rack my brain was the lack of mental health resources for the Latino community in Columbus. For some people, mental health seems to be a secondary issue to others, such as the deficit in affordable housing and food availability for low-income families. While these issues are crucial to recognize and repair, I find that there is much more attention placed on these them by social media and lawmakers as compared to the shortage of quality mental health resources, especially for those individuals living in poverty. When I began my time for my SSLP at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center in Columbus, Ohio, one of my first tasks was to reach out to various mental health organizations in hopes of developing partnerships so that we as a center would be able to confidently refer our clients somewhere that we knew they would be able to receive swift and beneficial mental health services. However, this proved to be a struggle from the very beginning. On my first day at the center, I contacted upwards of 30 different mental health organizations in Columbus that I found through the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board of Franklin County. These organizations are listed as options for low-income individuals, and many of them are known to serve those without health insurance or documentation. I explained to these organizations that OLGC was looking to find those who could be of assistance to our mostly Spanish-speaking client base. My supervisor previously shared with me how difficult it had been for her to find organizations that possess the necessary resources to support the Latino community, given our somewhat narrow specifications. However, inclined by my naïve confidence in my ability to “smooth talk” and persist, I thought I had the power to find the organizations that OLGC was looking for. Within a couple of days, I had received emails back from only two organizations, while only one of these organizations said they felt they had the ability to serve our clients. “Not too bad,” I thought to myself, feeling satisfied and somewhat self-assured knowing that I at least found one. Of course, I assumed that the other 28 organizations would get back to me, hopeful that they would say something similar to the previous one. So, I waited. And then I waited some more. Yet, to my shock and dismay, I received only a handful of responses in the following week, with only a few of them willing to speak with me further about their resources for the Latino community. Despite my wishful thinking, the majority of the organizations that responded placed emphasis on the fact that, while they didn’t have bilingual clinicians or counselors, they had a few bilingual interpreters to sit in the room with a client and their counselor to translate the conversation. Now, I don’t know about you, but the thought of having to share my deepest struggles with a total stranger is a bit daunting, let alone having to share them with an interpreter who then shares them with my counselor while I sit there awkwardly and pray that they’re conveying my words correctly. On top of that, many of these organizations have cautioned about their gut-wrenchingly long waiting lists given that they only have two or three of these interpreters. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), a whopping $425 million was being allocated to mental health services through the CARES Act fund with $100 million to be used directly for providing emergency support to vulnerable populations, such as those suffering from homelessness. I wonder why, given this drastic increase in mental health service funding, more of it was not used to strengthen and expand services for Latinos who, not to mention, make up 18.5% of the U.S. population, with 24% of them living below the poverty line. With much of the funding through the CARES Act set to end in September of this year, I urge those in power to consider allocating more of the remaining funds to organizations who support the Latino community, as well as to those organizations who are lacking staff and other resources that remain crucial in providing quality and effective mental health care to this group of individuals. Further, I encourage those organizations who do have access to funding to make it a primary objective to hire more bilingual clinicians and counselors so that Latinos may feel comfortable and confident knowing that there are places to go in times of crisis, places that treat serving Latinos as a top priority. In my opinion, the topic of mental health is not a political one. With all the divisiveness in society today, I think everyone can agree with one thing: everyone deserves to feel heard and cared for. Everyone deserves to have someone to talk to. Regardless of one’s opinions on healthcare, immigration or other popular topics, we can all find solidarity in the fact that we are human beings simply trying to find our way in this world. For once, let’s put aside our differences and stand up for something that each and every one of us has longed for at some point in time.

Emily Ziliak


Sept. 1

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.