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  • Writer's pictureRachel Showstack

Access to Mental Health Services for Spanish Speakers in Kansas

By Kelly Guzman, with contributions by Rachel Showstack


Kelly Guzman is a bilingual mental health clinician with a private practice in Wichita. Rachel Showstack is an Associate Professor of Spanish at Wichita State and the President of Alce su Voz.


¿Terapeuta, Doctora, o Psicóloga? Therapist, Doctor, or Psychologist? At Alce Su Voz’s Community Council meeting in May, I pointed out these terms are used interchangeably by Spanish-speaking patients to refer to therapists in the United States. The meeting was held to explore barriers to access to mental health services for Spanish speakers in Kansas and possible approaches to addressing those barriers.


As part of the discussion on exploring barriers, I examined the ways in which mental health services are accessed in Mexico.


In Mexico, mental health facilities are staffed by medical doctors and psychologists. There is a high concentration of these facilities near or in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, where universities are located. It is no surprise that some Mexican people who were born in Mexico and migrated to the United States later in life have minimal exposure to mental health services, especially if they lived in rural areas in Mexico, and that they refer to therapists as ‘doctors’ or ‘psychologists,’ terms they use to show respect to mental health professionals, despite ongoing clarification of the therapist role in the United States.


‘Cultural humility,’ a commitment to deeper understanding of culture through ongoing self-reflection and self-examination of biases, should be considered in the provision of mental health services to Spanish speakers. A way professionals can do this is by evaluating international mental health systems and customs, and of significance, invite community voices to contribute their experiences on navigating systems in the United States.


In celebration of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Alce Su Voz honors Latine voices in this month’s blog post by sharing our community discussion around access to Spanish-language mental health services. We also provide information about mental health resources available in Spanish in Wichita.


The Hispanic/Latino community in the United States is at a greater risk for severe mental illness than the general population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one of the main reasons for this increased risk is that Hispanic/Latino individuals face barriers to accessing care. Only 35.1% of Hispanic/Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, compared to the national average of 46.2%. Alce su Voz views community discussion as an important first step toward improvement in barriers to access in Kansas.


The Community Council identified a set of barriers to accessing mental health services experienced by the Hispanic/Latino community in Wichita, including high costs of care, lack of accessible information about available services, the stigma of mental illness, and difficulties with transportation and scheduling. We also discussed possible ways to increase access to care, prepare local institutions to address mental health crises, and develop more effective interventions for our Hispanic/Latino community.


Of note, federal laws require healthcare entities to provide language services for individuals with “limited English proficiency” (LEP). Yet many entities that provide mental health services are not prepared to offer equitable care for people who need language services.

In draft regulations implementing the nondiscrimination requirements of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557), the Office for Civil Rights would require bilingual health care providers and staff to demonstrate their proficiency in English and an additional language and knowledge of specialized vocabulary in both languages. This is because a clinician who identifies as bilingual but does not know specialized terminology is not automatically qualified to provide care in Spanish.


Alce su Voz hopes to see an increase in language-specific training programs for bilingual social workers, psychotherapists, and other mental health professionals, including Spanish-language courses on mental health topics and practicum experiences focused on Spanish-language care, supervised by qualified bilingual mental health care providers.


We also hope to see an increase in utilization of in-person and video remote interpreting services in mental health care facilities in Kansas, including during the patient intake process.


During the May Alce su Voz Community Council meeting, participants had many testimonios to share about mental health challenges that they had experienced, and we observed that the opportunity to talk about mental health with other Latinos seemed to be of great value for the community. Alce su Voz would like to continue to support opportunities for conversations about mental health in the Latino community in Kansas.


One of the resources that is now available to the Spanish-speaking community in Wichita is the PODEMOS! project led by Sammy Paunetto of the International Rescue Committee (IRC). This community-based educational program was created in response to the gap in mental health services in the Hispanic community in the U.S.. The Spanish-language curriculum covers topics like trauma, domestic relationships in Hispanic cultures, anxiety, and substance abuse.


Another opportunity in Wichita to learn about mental health is the Suspenders4Hope program, which is now available in Spanish, an hour-long evidence-based suicide prevention training program where you will learn about the Share, Ask, Support method to identify someone in distress, intervene, and connect them to crisis resources. If you are interested in a Suspenders4Hope presentation in Spanish, you can contact Alce Su Voz or a #WSUWeSupportU specialist at Wichita State University.


To find a Spanish-speaking therapist in Wichita, you can enter your city or zip code on Psychology Today, a national online therapist directory often used by therapists and other professionals, to find Spanish-speaking therapists in your area. On this website, you are able to filter therapists by insurance and language, among other filters you can apply to narrow your therapist search.


You can also find a Spanish list of Spanish-speaking therapists here.


If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, you can now access 988, a Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, in both English and Spanish. You can access 988 by phone, text, and chat, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Locally, you can call the local crisis center at 316-660-7500, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Note: If you decide to call the local crisis center, it is likely the phone will be answered by an English speaker so please request an interpreter if you need one. You deserve care in your language.


Alce su voz is a community-based coalition whose mission is to improve health equity for Spanish speakers and speakers of indigenous languages in the United States, with a focus on Kansas and the Midwest. For more information or to get involved, please send an email to alcesuvoz@gmail.com. You can also join our email list and follow us on Facebook.



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