This article is reprinted from Vida en el Valle as written by Maria Ortiz-Briones. Originally published Feb. 24, 2017.

For Diana Marín and Glenda Ramírez taking part of the Consejo project at California State University, Fresno, gives them the opportunity to provide mental health services to Spanish-speaking Latino families in the Valley.

Marín, 24, and Ramírez, 26, are currently in the graduate program for Social Work Education and both are two of the trainees in the Consejo Program.

The program, which is a Latino Behavioral Health Practice, examines cultural barriers that limit the access to mental health and substance abuse services in the Latino population living in the San Joaquín Valley, especially those who only speak Spanish.

“The San Joaquín Valley has the worst emotional health in California. Compared to other regions, (it is) not good emotional health as the other regions to put it in a different perspective,” said Dr. Irán Barrera, adding that Latinos, one of the biggest minorities groups in the state, but one that is least to utilize mental health services compared to other groups.

Barrera, who is the co-principal investigator for the Consejo Project, said he has always wondered why Latinos don’t use those mental health services as other ethnic groups.

People might say that it is because of lack of health insurance, or the cost of those services; however, Barrera said he has always focused on the cultural aspect to find why Latinos don’t feel comfortable using mental health services, as cultural barriers can prevent Latino families from utilizing those services.

The Consejo Project, which is housed in the Department of Social Work Education, trains social work students to serve Spanish-speaking children, teenagers and transitional aged youth ages 16 to 25 and their families in community areas where Latinos are a majority of the population in those communities.

2016-17 Consejo Cohort. Barrera is pictured at right.

The goal is to increase the number of bilingual and bicultural behavioral health group member professionals in the Central Valley.

The Consejo Project is a collaboration between Fresno State’s Master of Social Work students and Behavioral Health agencies in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties.

As part of the Consejo program, those who are enrolled in the two-semester elective project during their second year of the Social Work master program have the opportunity to examine the cultural and systemic barriers that limit the access of Latinos when it comes to mental health and substance abuse services.

“We discuss new strategies to improve service delivery as future clinicians,” said Marín, adding that those discussions includes how the program can help break the stigma with Latino mental health.

Barrera, who is originally from Avenal in Kings County, said when he moved from Texas back to the Valley to work at Fresno State four years ago, he saw that there was a disconnect between “mainstream mental health and our community mental health.”

“We are finding that people in our culture don’t use words such post dramatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression,” Barrera said, adding that Latinos usually use words such as “me siento agüitado” (I’m sad) or “tengo nervios” (I’m nervous) — different terminology for mainstream mental health.

As a result, Barrera saw the need to have professionals who could graduate with that kind of training to address the mental health needs of Latinos.

Barrera applied for a federal grant with HRSA — Health Resources & Service Administration for funding for behavioral health workforce education and training for professionals and paraprofessionals.

Barrera and the Department of Social Work were awarded the grant which provided graduate social work students the distinctive opportunity to provide effective cultural and linguistic prevention, intervention and treatment in mental health and substance abuse for Latino children, teenagers and transitional youth.

This year’s cohort of the program has the most number of participants — 17 students training at different behavioral health agencies in the area during the one year curriculum and training.

“They have an internship where they work on mental health in the Latino community and also take a bilingual and bicultural mental health class,” said Barrera. “We meet once a week. They convert from students to federal trainees.”

Barrera said some of the internships take place either in a school set up or in the community in different counties.

“The ultimate goal is to graduate master level students with the knowledge of understanding the significant of Latino culture and mental health,” Barrera said.

“As Latinas in the Central Valley, as a social worker who works with Latino population, we realized there is a disconnect of what we use and the mainstream,” Ramírez said of things she has learned during the program.

Ramírez added that coming to the class in the program curriculum, has also allowed her to reflect on her own personal experience to personal life — as family members, practice students in the internships, and professional.

“Bringing all this together to make us aware as professionals when we graduate, we are going to be dealing with Latino clients, patients and we have to be aware that we use different words, different terms, that we express ourselves differently, the way we like to be addressed. We are going to keep in mind all these things as professional,” Ramírez said. “By having this knowledge we can transmit this to other professionals that might not realize that what they might do is not considered the right thing in the Latino culture.”

As a social worker, Marín said one way to break cultural barriers in the Latino Community is understanding the culture, immersing yourself, including understanding the kind of terms Latinos use when referring to a diagnosis of mental health and how to educate Latinos and inform them of the importance of seeking clinical help.

Ramírez said that even when you come around to convincing Latino patients to seek help, once they get to their appointments, they feel a complete disconnect, unwelcomed.

“We like being received in a warm place, in our own language,” Ramírez said. “Those are the kind of things that we practice and making ourselves aware.”

Ramírez is hopeful that once they graduate they can practice and with the knowledge they have gained in the program they can be those who train other medical professionals in the mental health field for a better approach when it comes to the Latino community and mental health.

View the Vida en el Valle article in its entirety at the LINK.