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Expert: More Spanish-Speaking Mental Health Professionals Needed In St. Louis Region

Julia Lopez is a clinical social worker and public health researcher at Washington University.
Washington University

There are about 90,000 Hispanic people in the St. Louis area, but mental health services featuring Spanish-speaking providers lag behind need, said Julia Lopez, a public health researcher and clinical social worker at Washington University. 

Lopez will speak Wednesday about the need for more mental health resources for the St. Louis region’s small but growing Hispanic population.

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, the University of Missouri-St. Louis invited the bilingual therapist to give insight into the challenges many Hispanic people face that might affect their mental health.

As a first-generation American, Lopez said she can relate to patients’ struggle to find their place in society. Lopez was born in the U.S. to a Venezuelan mother and Mexican father, and she spent much of her childhood traveling between the U.S. and Venezuela. 

“For me, it was quite the struggle to be able to feel like the United States, or wherever I was living, felt like a real home,” Lopez said.

It’s common for Latinos to question their identity, struggle to assimilate, worry about their legal status or feel concerned for family in other countries, Lopez said. 

“Having someone who can empathize to that perspective, I think, allows for easier therapeutic alliance,” Lopez said.

According to the most recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report, about 33% of Hispanic adults with a mental illness receive health services, compared to 45% for the rest of the population.

Lopez said St. Louis lacks an adequate number of bilingual therapists, which makes mental health care less accessible.

Her lecture will include information about where Hispanic residents can seek help in the area. She said Casa de Salud and Bilingual International Assistant Services are helpful resources, and she encourages those looking for a bilingual therapist to use the Spanish-speaker filter on Psychology Today’s website.

Deborah Burris, UMSL’s chief diversity officer, said the university incorporated the lecture into its celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month to bring awareness of the challenges.

Burris said current events and more restrictive immigration policies, such as detaining and separating families at the border, are affecting those in the Hispanic community in less visible ways.

“The images that we saw of the children being separated from their families and in cages—you can just imagine what that would do to a person's mental state if that was, you know, a member of my community going through that,” Burris said.

Lopez’s lecture is open to the public and begins at 1 p.m. Wednesday in UMSL’s Millennium Student Center, Century Room C.

Follow Andrea Smith on Twitter: @andr3afaith.

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