Pioneers in Latino Mental Health Part 1

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Pioneers in Latino Mental Health, Part 1
Dr. Miguel Valencia, Ph. D., Director of Mental Health, Gardner Health Services

Dr. ValenciaThis is the first in a series of blogs about Gardner’s Mental Health services and how we are working to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
The story of Gardner’s mental health services dates back to the passage of the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, which provided federal funding for community mental health centers. Its purpose was to help move mental health services into the community, away from being offered almost exclusively in hospitals and other institutions.
Over the years, community-based mental health services did begin to flourish but not to a level that was adequate for the numbers of patients who were transferred out of institutions. In addition, certain segments of the population were left out—specifically, the ethnic communities. Their linguistic or cultural needs weren’t considered when developing community mental health services.
In 1976, while I was working on my master’s degree in clinical community psychology at San Jose State University, I took a course in community psychology. One of the requirements was to volunteer with a community agency in order to receive field training. This is what brought me to Gardner Community Health Center. At the time, Gardner had a medical clinic, a WIC program, and dental services, but no mental health services of any kind.
Along with a group of other graduate students, I researched the current mental health system of Santa Clara County. We found that about 3% of the clients were Latinos although the proportion of Latinos in the general population at that time was only about 11%. This was a very significant discrepancy. And as we studied the community in the Gardner district of San Jose (west of downtown), we found that Latinos were experiencing high incidences of cultural dislocation, low self-esteem, depression, substance abuse, violence, family conflicts and disintegration, and mental illness. However, there were no specific mental health programs addressing their needs.
It became our mission to create an outpatient mental health program for Latinos. When Latino clients of Gardner’s medical clinic showed symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any psychosomatic disorder during their regular medical appointments, they were referred to us. We called our program, Centro de Bienestar, or Center of Wellbeing, and it became the first linguistically and culturally appropriate mental health program for Latinos in Santa Clara County.
However, we were just student volunteers completing the practicum requirement for our degrees. We wanted to make sure the program could become established in the community for the long-term. After extensive proposal writing, we were able to secure funding from the State of California to hire a staff person to direct the volunteer clinicians’ efforts and for a community mental health worker. That is how mental health services at Gardner began.
In my next blog, I’ll explain some of the pioneering work we did to educate the Gardner community about mental health and how our efforts have influenced other agencies in the county.

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