Ninety five percent of the time when I tell people I speak Spanish the initial reaction is shock. For a while, I was confused as to why they were so surprised. I have spoken the language for over half of my life, so it has been a big part of my life for a while. I still remember my first day in Spanish class in sixth grade.
I was immediately entranced by the beauty of the language, so I dove headfirst into learning everything I could about it. I love the sound of it and the musicality of the vocabulary. Fortunately, I developed a grasp of the language fairly quickly, so I was able to communicate in Spanish early on. Through my studies in Costa Rica and Argentina, I developed a deep appreciation and respect for Latinx and Spanish culture.
As I started my career as a counselor, I always knew that speaking Spanish would set me apart as a provider. I knew that people needed access to Spanish-speaking mental health professionals and that I would be able to help bridge a gap. However, as I have gotten further in my career, I have come to realize that it’s not a gap, it’s a gaping hole. The differences in access are significant. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, more than half of Hispanic young adults between 18 and 25 years old “with serious mental illness may not receive treatment.” There are numerous reasons why access to mental health services is harder for Spanish-speaking individuals, but the language barrier is a major contributor to the disparity.
An article from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill states that as of 2019 there are over one million Hispanic/Latinx people in North Carolina alone. Of that one million, 116,000 live in Wake County. This begs the question: Why do these barriers continue to exist and what can we do to increase access for our Latinx folks? One of the best ways to educate ourselves on resources in our community and amplify those organizations.
Here are a few that I encourage you to check out and share with friends:
For many providers, there are services that exist where information can be translated by a third party in real time. This is a great resource, increases accessibility, and allows the client to be fully involved in their care. Additionally, there are apps and programs that can help English-speakers develop conversational Spanish skills like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Babbel, StudySpanish.com and YouTube. Taking the time to increase your conversation skills goes a long way towards helping Spanish-speaking clients feel seen and appreciated. I have learned in my own Spanish-speaking journey that willingness to learn means a great deal. No one is asking for perfection- just effort. Perhaps you will use these resources to challenge yourself to learn something new and immerse yourself in a new culture!
If you have any questions or know someone who could benefit from support in Spanish, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.