Yesterday, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano hosted a mental health summit entitled "Salud Mental: School Based Mental Health Programs for Youth," as part of this year's Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Policy Conference. A panel of expert witnesses discussed youth mental health in the Latino community with an audience of mental health providers, educators, Latino activists and others.
"Mental health is an issue that has been ignored for far too long, especially within the Latino community," Napolitano said. "It is time to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and provide the services that will support our next generation of young leaders."
Napolitano is the author of H.R. 751, the Mental Health in Schools Act, which would provide grant funding for school districts and local mental health services providers to help students with mental health issues with on-site care and counseling.
Many of the panelists pointed to a lack of access to mental health services and the stresses of balancing an immigrant-values home life with competing messages from the media and peers at school.
"I was the first generation in my family to be born in America," said Mia St. John, mental health activist and a three-time world champion boxer. "All I wanted to be was American. I had stress, depression, symptoms that a professional could have recognized as anxiety or psychosis. By the time I was 18, I was homeless and contemplating suicide."
While one out of five U.S. children suffers from some form of mental health disorder, Latino youth have the worst access to care of any group. Twenty-one percent of Latina females in grades 9-12 have reported seriously considering suicide.
"The majority of those who need help never receive it," said Dr. Olga Acosta Price, Director of the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools at George Washington University. "Working very closely with the schools and the families is crucial."
"Mental health is an issue we realize needs more openness and attention. One young man told me "I can't really tell anyone about my depression because my father will not think I am a man' -- that attitude needs to change," said Reynaldo Casas of Viacom, who worked on the "Half of Us" mental health awareness campaign.
* Hispanic students have a higher incidence of "feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row," contemplating suicide, making a suicide plan, and attempting suicide than either white or black students (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf for specific statistics)
* Hispanic children have the highest rate of unmet need of any group for mental health services (49.4 percent, http://www.mchb.hrsa.gov/chusa10/hsfu/pages/304mht.html)
* Latinos will be a third of U.S. population by 2050
* 1 in 5 U.S. children and adolescents have some form of mental health issue (American Academy of Pediatrics)
* Prevention works -- behavioral and emotional problems decreased among 31 percent of kids with mental health issues after 6 month of receiving mental health care (SAMHSA report)
* Rep. Napolitano began funding mental health services for schools in her congressional district in 2001. The program has since expanded to 14 schools and serves as a pilot program for the Mental Health in Schools Act