Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said Tuesday he wants more Hispanic families to proactively address mental health to overcome the structural and cultural barriers that have undermined diagnosing and treating mental illnesses in the community.
“We have to talk to folks and especially if we can get folks who are from those communities, Latinos, especially in Spanish, talking to families to let them know that there’s nothing wrong saying you’ve got a broken bone or a depressed heart,” Becerra told The Hill.
“Either way you’re ill, whether it’s physical or mental, you’re ill.”
A report in March by UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino human rights organization, found that suicide rates among Hispanics rose more than twice as fast as suicide rates among white Americans between 2010 and 2020.
Between 2019 and 2020, as suicide deaths decreased overall, the suicide rate increased 5.7 percent among Hispanic men, the report found.
Becerra spoke about the issue at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ annual forum on Hispanic higher education.
“I know nine out of ten Americans are saying we’re facing a mental health crisis. It’s probably more intense in our communities that are disenfranchised, that are communities of color, because they’re gonna get the services last, and often least,” Becerra told the attendees.
Though Becerra noted that cultural barriers affect the rates at which many Hispanics seek mental health care, he said the primary issue is access.
“First, make sure people are aware that they have access to mental health services. A lot of folks don’t know where to go. They don’t think they can afford it,” said Becerra.
“There are many places where it is [available], including some of the community health centers, federally qualified community health centers, many of the different medical facilities will offer it, especially if you’re insured there. If you’re not insured, you can still get some of the care.”
Becerra said that to address the issue, his department needs more resources and authorities, but also noted that mental health care benefitted especially from the telehealth lessons learned during the COVID pandemic.
“In behavioral health we saw that the impact of telehealth was perhaps greater than in other areas because so many people are afraid because of stigma often times or because of distance or costs to go get mental health services,” said Becerra.
“Well, if you can do it from your home, you have the privacy of your home. You don’t have to have the big expense and it makes it tough for you to have an excuse to not make your appointment and so, telehealth became very important.”
But the rise of telehealth during the pandemic could soon be cut short, said Becerra, if Congress does not extend pandemic-related telehealth measures.
“Congress has passed measures that have given us a temporary extension of those flexibilities and telehealth, but they will expire at the end of 2024. If they expire and Congress doesn’t do anything, it’s going to be tough to be able to offer those telehealth services.”