April 6, 2001

New Organization Addresses Mental Health and Substance Abuse Needs of Latino Community

As the health care needs of the emerging and growing U.S. Latino population begin to receive the attention of policy and decision-makers, mental health and substance abuse realities of Latinos are still lagging in visibility and importance as other diseases are. To address this concern, a group of committed individuals from around the country founded the National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA), which aims to take a key role in raising the awareness of mental health and substance abuse issues that impact on the lives of Latinos. NLBHA is the first national Latino organization formed to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues that seriously threaten the health and well being of the Latino community.

The lack of culturally competent mental health services is devastating to the Latino community. The statistics speak for themselves. Hispanics have the highest rates of depression of any population in the U.S. Ten percent of young Hispanics have attempted suicide. Overall, 23 percent of young Hispanics say they have considered the possibility of ending their lives. One in three Hispanic girls has seriously considered suicide, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group. Overall, Hispanics have the lowest level of insurance coverage among the major U.S. ethnic groups, making it even more difficult to obtain services. Studies are showing that Hispanics diagnosed with mental disorders are receiving insufficient mental health care and have disparate access to and availability of services. Fewer than 18 percent of all Hispanic adults sought help from health care professionals, and less than half of those professionals were specialists in mental health care. Many mental health facilities are unsuccessful in reaching Latinos.

The roots for the formation of the National Latino Behavioral Health Association began on March 2000 as over 100 key Hispanic community leaders and key partners met at a historical National Congress for Mental Health convened by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A national agenda and an action plan to improve mental health services for the Latino community were crafted at the Congress. As part of its mission, NLBHA will use the agenda and action plan as guideposts in improving the mental health and substance abuse needs of the Latino population.

NLBHA will work in collaboration with national, state and local leaders and entities to promote and develop policies, support research and quality, comprehensive, and effective services for Latinos. NLBHA's leadership believes that the cultural, linguistic and health needs of the Latino population can best be met when knowledge about mental health and substance abuse is shared, barriers to care are removed and solid partnerships are formed among consumers and families, clinicians, researchers, educators, clergy, administrators and policy makers.

On March 31, NLBHA board members met in San Antonio with the Ad Hoc Steering Committee to develop a 3-5 year blueprint for implementing the action plan. Planning is also underway for three state/local roundtables in Denver, New York and Los Angeles to bring key stakeholders together to dialogue about, and develop plans to address the state and local health needs of Latinos. The first roundtable is scheduled for April 19th in Denver. The roundtables will enable NLBHA to build local knowledge of the issues and use that knowledge for national advocacy and policy development.

Additionally, NLBHA has launched a national membership drive to attract individuals involved in this issue and empower the association to have a powerful voice and presence on national mental health and substance abuse issues affecting Latinos.

For individuals interested in learning more about NLBHA, its leadership and mission, contact A. Marie Sanchez, Executive Director, PO Box 387, Berthoud, CO 80513, via email: marie.sanchez@prodigy.net or at 970-532-7210.

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