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Cultural Differences Can Prevent Hispanics/Latinos from Asking for Help

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 10, 2019 — 4 min read
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Community Engagement Specialist and Piedmont Region CIT Coordinator Kilsy Silva-Disla came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was 5 years old and knows firsthand the stress that comes with moving to a new country and learning a new culture.

She has since become a naturalized citizen and now likes to work with others new to this country supporting them when possible as they adjust to the culture. As a Cardinal employee she works with the community as a Community Engagement Specialist and as a Crisis Intervention Team training coordinator. She works with first responders to ensure better outcomes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health and substance use disorders.

“With a minority family, the level of anxiety and stress that they’re dealing with is often beyond normal,” she said. For Hispanics/Latinos, “you’re acclimating to a whole different culture and that can be stressful. It all ties in because stress equals depression and could lead to mental health issues. The crisis and the constant stress issues compile. Minority families end up feeling helpless and hopeless.”

Adding to the difficulties of those with a mental health diagnosis, Hispanics and Latinos are often not open to saying they need help, Silva-Disla said. 

“Some minorities will hide the fact that they are dealing with a mental illness or with mental health issues because it’s not acceptable due to the liability and extra strain it could bring to their families,” she said. “To say that we have mental health needs or issues would mean that we’re a liability or not good enough to perform or to move forward.”

Silva-Disla said she now knows that her firsthand experiences growing up with the stresses that came with being part of a minority family was part of her inspiration for working in the behavioral health field. Her father, a tractor-trailer driver and furniture mover, was injured on the job and was unable to continue working. “I saw him getting grouchy and feeling angrier and eventually going through depression,” she said.

“Just like how I’m a hugger, I like to metaphorically wrap my arms around people with hope and with strategies for them to know how to cope with life or how to use those natural supports that exist in their communities,” she said.

Silva-Disla does training now in the Hispanic/Latino community as well as through the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training program for first responders. She regularly meets with leaders in the Hispanic/Latino community in Cabarrus County to provide an overview of Cardinal Innovations and answer questions.

“I go out there and connect with churches and places where they (Hispanics/Latinos) feel safe and bring that information to them where they can just talk and be real,” she said.

Silva-Disla also offers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), which provides training to identify and respond to a mental health crisis, and Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR), a suicide prevention training program, in Spanish.

“There are kids dealing with all types of stress from school and their status as minorities, sometimes that leads to suicide or that leads to them having feelings of depression. I want to bring to the parents, the Hispanic/Latino parents, the information they need to support their child and to help them know how to cope with these types of feelings, emotions and circumstances,” Silva-Disla said.

CIT training, which was established to improve outcomes when law enforcement encounters individuals in a behavioral health crisis, focuses on how to recognize the signs of a mental health, substance use disorder or intellectual and developmental disability-related crisis and what to do. “CIT facilitates them to have the space they need to reduce the stigma for those with SUD, MH and IDD,” she said.

“We discuss it from the perspective of the type of service we’re giving to communities. Whether you are a minority or Hispanic/Latino specifically, who needs help, do not be afraid of first responders. They are usually there to support you.”

Silva-Disla said anyone who calls 911 for help can ask the operator for a CIT trained first responder if the emergency is related to mental illness, intellectual disability and substance use disorders.
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