Guest editorial: Park City needs increased mental health services

Dirk C. Gootjes
Park City

I am a Community Outreach Coordinator specializing in Latino families at the Park City High School and Park City Learning Academy. My three months here have made me acutely aware of an issue that needs to be better addressed: mental wellness in our community. Not only do I want to speak to this in general, but I also want to highlight the extra challenges faced by our Latino neighbors when it comes to mental health issues and treatment.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states “one in five people is affected by mental illness” and the 49 million Latinos in the US are no exception. In fact, research has shown that Latinos face extra challenges when it comes to mental healthcare: lack of information and misunderstanding about mental health, privacy concerns, language barriers, lack of insurance, legal status, misdiagnosis, and cultural differences — the last two being especially important to understand.

Sheila Dichoso, a CNN health writer, informs us that in Latino communities “a deeply rooted mix of cultural and socio-economic factors have conspired to stigmatize people with mental illness, in many cases causing them — and their families — to delay or avoid seeking professional help.” In my 17 years living in Latin America, I discovered Latinos are very self-reliant and do not like to talk with strangers about their problems, especially men thanks to the culture of machismo. Latinos often fear being labeled as “locos”, which can bring shame to their families. Compounding the problem, cultural differences can affect how Latinos are diagnosed and treated by healthcare professionals. NAMI points out that “research has shown a lack of cultural competence in mental health care. This results in misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. Latinos and other multicultural communities tend to receive poorer quality of care.” Not only do Latinos need to be better educated that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of or stigmatized, but also mental wellness providers need to be better trained in cultural sensitivity so more people in need can be reached and helped.

At my job, I see many referrals made for mental healthcare for our high school students regardless of race. What I have discovered is that our healthcare system is overburdened and our children are waiting for weeks to get the help they need immediately. It is obvious that our healthcare facilities, especially the safety-net clinics that treat people without health insurance, are overburdened, underfunded, and understaffed to handle the demand placed upon them. In my short time here, I know Park City is an amazing and generous community with a heart of gold. I urge all Parkites to get more involved in all our children’s mental wellness — donating money or volunteering time — at the People’s Health Clinic, Valley Behavioral Health, The Peace House, The Christian Center, The United Way and its Promise program, Communities That Care, or the charity (secular and non-secular) or healthcare provider of your choice. It takes a village so let’s join together in the spirit of compassion, understanding, tolerance, diversity, and community to make a difference in all our lives in Park City.

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