With the help of a $75,000 grant from the Arsht-Cannon Fund at the DCF, the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Delaware (NAMI-Delaware) is now helping address the mental health needs of Delaware’s growing Hispanic population by providing bilingual, bicultural services from its new Georgetown office.
This two-year program grant is the latest installment of the Arsht-Cannon Fund’s $200,000 NAMI-Delaware Hispanic Services Initiative, a multi-year investment to provide mental health care for Hispanic adults and families coping with mental illness.
Many Hispanics face mental illness due to high levels of stress for prolonged periods of time, driven by fears about their ability to meet basic needs and potential for separation from loved ones through deportation.
Negative effects of mental illness are compounded for Hispanics because of the current political environment, cultural stigmas, and limited access to care, particularly bilingual and culturally sensitive care.
“Mothers started feeling scared,” said Blanca Sandoval, a Spanish-speaking Sussex County native, who directs the NAMI-Delaware Hispanic program. “They started keeping their children out of school. They thought their husbands would be taken off their jobs and they would never see them again.”
Over the past 10 years, the ACF, NAMI-Delaware and several other nonprofits have been working in partnership on a variety of programs to increase access to mental health services to Hispanic families in Kent and Sussex County. This work is part of the ACF’s multimillion-dollar investment in improving quality of life for Hispanic Delawareans.
Now, via NAMI-Delaware’s Georgetown office, Hispanic Delawareans can receive services in their native language. Sandoval is coordinating “Sharing Hope/Compartiendo Esperanza,” a series of Spanish-language presentations about the symptoms of mental illness. She also is working with other nonprofits to develop a sequence of workshops addressing issues that often go hand in hand with mental health needs, such as domestic violence.
Through this outreach, Delaware Hispanics are becoming more familiar with mental health issues and the care available. And most importantly, they are gaining confidence that they are safe because NAMI-Delaware provides confidential services, said Anne Slease, NAMI-Delaware director of advocacy and education.
“Many people stopped seeking help. They stopped seeing doctors. They thought their information would be passed on,” Slease said. “This is a big turning point. This is traction. We’re making connections in the community.”
In addition to building trust and offering Spanish-language services, unique cultural sensitivity is needed to work with the Hispanic population because of the significant stigma around mental health issues, Sandoval said.
“The words mental illness can’t even be mentioned when I talk to people,” she said. “The way I approach people is I tell them we have help for depression or anxiety or trauma.”
As she builds trust through visits to festivals, health fairs, churches and other community events, Sandoval is also searching for volunteers to facilitate and expand the popular support groups. She’s also looking for bilingual counselors and therapists to volunteer to work individually with people who are struggling with their mental health needs.
“It’s really critical to partner with the Arsht-Cannon Fund,” Sandoval said. “We’re getting funding to help a vulnerable population.”
The work to expand mental health services for Hispanics in southern Delaware is just one of many nonprofit programs supported by the Arsht-Cannon Fund, said ACF Executive Director Christine Cannon, Ph.D.
“I am very proud to say that our funding (over $9 million since 2003) has increased the number, the size and the statewide availability of programs/nonprofits that support educational opportunities and healthcare access for Delaware’s growing number of Hispanic families,” Cannon said.
“And in supporting the success of Delaware’s Hispanic families, we’re supporting the success of all Delawareans.”