PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — For Latinx families in the area, accessing mental health care services that fit their needs is a challenge, according to Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest hospital group.

Dr. Yovanska Duarte-Vélez and Gisela Jimenez-Colon lead Lifespan’s Mi Gente program, which treats behavioral health issues in Latinx and Hispanic youth with mood disorders and trauma.

The program offers bilingual and culturally tailored services to individuals between the ages of 12 and 21 and uses evidence-based treatment, taking into account ethnic background, culture, language, and Latinx family dynamics.

“The teen is so used to the American way and the caregivers are more holding to their values and culture, so usually there’s a conflict there,” Duarte-Vélez noted.

A Latinx family from Attleboro was seeking care for their 16-year-old son, who was struggling with what the mother describes as a long-lasting sadness. The mother, who chose to remain anonymous to protect her son’s privacy, said the place where her son often received care previously left him feeling worse.

“Background, upbringing, the person’s age … I think there was a disconnect in that as well,” the mother said.

Language, culture, and stigma are often barriers that keep the Latinx community from accessing mental health care services, according to Duarte-Vélez.

The mother told 12 News that Mi Gente’s culturally tailored treatment, and the fact that the clinicians are Latinx, provide comfort for her son.

“He considers her family. He says, ‘I feel like she’s my aunt,’ and we feel that way, and I’m going to get emotional because she’s become an integral part of his life, our life, and she’s been a star,” the mother said.

Duarte-Vélez said families should take care of their mental health like they care for their bodies.

“There’s the idea that if you go to counseling you are crazy, there’s something really wrong about you,” Duarte-Vélez explained. “But I would say that it’s actually really smart to look for help if you need it.”

The program is part of the Child and Family Outpatient Services at Gateway Healthcare—which is an arm of Bradley Hospital.

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