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Latinos face language barrier, cultural stigmas when seeking mental health treatment

Wasatch Mental Health’s American Fork clinic didn’t think it had any clients who spoke Spanish. Then it hired someone who knew the language, and the people started rolling in.

“If we have it available, more people will be willing to come,” said Elizabeth Feil, a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor at Wasatch Mental Health’s Provo Family Clinic.

Latinos face a unique set of stresses and barriers to obtaining mental health treatment, along with a set of cultural stigmas that surround seeking help.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, it is frightening enough to come in for mental health services,” said Scott Taylor, a licensed clinical social worker and the program manager for Wasatch Mental Health’s Provo Family Clinic.

About 17% of Hispanics have a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, and 3.6% had serious thoughts about, made plans or attempted suicide, according to data from Mental Health America.

About one-third of Latino adults with a mental illness receive treatment each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, compared to the national average of 43%.

About 80% of Rosa Reyes’ caseload are Latino clients. Reyes, a licensed clinical social worker with Wasatch Mental Health, said that Latinos face strains from their financial situation, to immigration status to concerns about what their legal rights are. She said she’s seen clients express that they’re experiencing more stress since the beginning of the Trump administration.

Reyes said she’s had more clients talking about getting a power of attorney into place in the last couple of years.

“For a lot of time, you didn’t talk about it if you were undocumented,” Reyes said. “You didn’t say it. Now, more people are talking about it. There is more of a fear.”

Deportations, especially, can put stress on a family. Reyes said mothers have to work more and take on the role of a single parent after a father is deported, and some families lose touch after a family member is removed from the country.

“The mom will say, ‘my kids didn’t have any issues until their dad was deported,’” she said. “That is a huge change.”

The Provo clinic has evolved in the last few years to break down barriers for Latinos to come in for treatment. It has an annual training on cultural diversity, which includes stressing to providers that they should get to know clients on an individual level instead of making assumptions about how long their family has been in the country, what their immigration status is or which language they prefer to communicate in.

The clinic has added more Spanish-speaking staff and now has a Spanish-speaking front desk, case managers and providers. Signs and paperwork are available in both English and Spanish.

“I want them to feel comfortable,” Taylor said. “I want them to feel like they can come here.”

Every time it has an opening, it notes that Spanish-speaking candidates are preferred.

Taylor didn’t have the statistics, but previously knew that he didn’t have enough staff who spoke Spanish. Now, he estimates that about a third of the 3,000 to 4,000 clients his clinic annually sees are Latino.

“It is very rare that I go to the waiting room and there’s not somebody who speaks Spanish,” he said.

Before increasing its Spanish-speaking staff and enacting a policy change, bilingual employees were being pulled away from their jobs to translate.

“I was getting a lot more phone calls trying to schedule people rather than treating people,” Reyes said.

But although the clinic is seeing more Latina women and Latino children, it still faces a struggle in convincing Latino men they need to come in. Part of it is attributed to Latino men who work long hours and can’t afford to take a day off, while part of it has to do with the cultural expectations for men.

“I think there is more of ‘I need to be a strong man,’ more so than in typical American culture,” Feil said.

Latino men can also see the problems as their family’s, not theirs.

“Those who are aware they are hurting, they want some help,” said Alex Ibarra, a therapist at Wasatch Mental Health. “Those who do not want to accept that they could improve something, they feel like they send the wife and the children, that they don’t have to show up.”

Ibarra said Latino men also have the idea that they’re “crazy” if they seek help.

Part of it, he said, also comes down to their own history.

“It is a lack of awareness, and many times it is because, as far as I have seen, many of these men have had difficult childhood experiences,” Ibarra said. “They have had parents, sometimes fathers, who were very cruel to them, and so they kind of have used the same tools that they learned from their parents to use.”

Utah's first transgender pride event held in Provo

History Saturday looked like a grassy Provo park, an overcast sky and two rows of flags lining the sidewalk of Lions Park.

But while its organizers sought to create a safe, family-friendly space for Utah’s first transgender pride festival, they also knew they didn’t host the event just for those who came, but also for youth who need to see those affirming the transgender community.

“There are people who are not here today who are so thankful this is happening,” said D Porter, a board member with Genderbands.

Genderbands, a national nonprofit that awards grants to help transgender people afford gender confirmation surgeries, hosted Pride in the Park: Utah Trans Pride, Saturday at Lions Park in Provo. The organization, which is based out of Orem, hopes to replicate the event every year.

The festival included tables decorated with the colors of the transgender flag, a wall of transgender heroes and mermaids who were available for selfies.

Porter, who uses they/them pronouns, said planning for the event began this summer after Genderbands looked at its next steps. They said people have voiced that they want the organization to also serve as a community center.

With resources for the LGBTQ community already existing in Salt Lake City, Genderbands wanted to host the festival close to home.

“We intentionally wanted to keep it in Utah County,” Porter said.

LGBTQ pride events are held in the summer, but Porter said Genderbands wanted to create an event specifically for the transgender community. While Pride was originally started by transgender, black women, Porter said Pride events today are dominated by white, cisgender, gay men.

“We need to create spaces where we highlight and put a mic to marginalized communities,” they said.

Tyler Rowe, a drag king from Salt Lake City who performs as Tyler Sign, wanted to be there for the moment.

“We are literally making history,” said Rowe, who uses they/them pronouns.

Rowe moved from Provo in August, and said they’re glad the first transgender pride event is happening in Utah County.

“It’s nice to be in the majority and not the minority,” they said.

For Savy Stay, who lives in Orem and uses they/them pronouns, the event was a chance to meet friends in the transgender community that they can relate to.

“I can say ‘they/them,’ and everyone knows what I’m talking about,” Stay said.

The event also creates space for the transgender community that isn’t a bar. Stay said they wish there were more alcohol-free, transgender-friendly spaces, such as LGBTQ coffee shops.

“This is great,” Stay said, “but it’s only happening once a year.”

Make-a-Wish surprises girl at Pleasant Grove Library with trip to Australia

It was a message that could only be delivered by owl.

Dressed in her glasses and a Gryffindor robe inspired by the “Harry Potter” series, Ava Kunz grinned as she read aloud that her wish had been granted and in a few months, her entire family would be boarding a plane to Australia.

“We fell in love with Ava and her story, and we wanted to make her wish happen,” said Gregg Johnstun, a creative director with Tamarak Capital in Springville.

Ava, a 9-year-old with cystic fibrosis from Kaysville, was surprised Saturday at the Pleasant Grove Library’s annual Harry Potter Party by Tamarak Capital and Make-a-Wish Utah.

It’s the second year Tamarak Capital has granted a wish to a Make-a-Wish child in Utah. Johnstun said it heard about the Harry Potter Party at the library and knew it would be the perfect time to surprise Ava.

Tamarak Capital originally intended to bring in a kangaroo, but then contacted Earthwings, which brought in two owls for the event.

Johnstun said the surprise is an opportunity for Tamarak Capital to give back. He said the CEO’s nephew was diagnosed with cancer, and the team has learned the impact it can have on an entire family.

“It is fun for our team to make a memorable experience for them,” he said.

For Ava, it brought together two of her favorite things — animals and Harry Potter.

“I like the adventures they have and the magic, and I like the games they play, like Quidditch,” she said.

She’s excited to go to Australia to swim in the Great Barrier Reef and see koalas.

“I think they’re cute,” Ava said.

Ava originally wanted to go on a gorilla trek, but wasn’t old enough.

“She’s always wanted to travel,” said Megan Kunz, Ava’s mother.

Two of Megan and Jeremy Kunz’s four children have cystic fibrosis. They recently moved to Utah from Ohio.

Kunz said Ava is a good big sister to her three younger siblings, rides horses and loves Harry Potter.

“She is a big-time reader,” Kunz said. “She is always reading.”

Running and reading combined in refugee support group

LOGAN — Running and reading go hand in hand in a northern Utah nonprofit aimed at helping refugees learn English while developing a love for athletics.

Athletics United was launched three years ago as a running club and evolved to include two nights per week of tutoring, said founders Mike and Kristi Spence of Logan. They created the group with friend Glynn Hadley to create a safe space for the children to make friends and learn English.

“We didn’t know exactly what form that would take,” Mike Spence said. “We just knew if you created a positive, safe atmosphere, we could put people together, use running as an ice breaker and then start to get to know one another and then see where it took us from there. It has been really, really great.”

Yanet Sandi, an eighth grader, has been in the club since its inception and said she loves the coaches and volunteers.

“They support us even when we don’t try our best,” Sandi said. “It is comfortable. We know them, and they understand you, where you have been or if you are having a hard time with English.”

The group founders all have longtime experience with the sport of running. Mike Spence is a former Utah State University track and field assistant head coach. Hadley and Kristi Spence are lifelong distance runners.

Combining sports with learning allows the Spences to connect with refugee children more closely than if they just tutored them, said Vidalia Cornwall, president of the “No Lost Generation” refugee support group.

“The opportunity to interact with the kids in a more open environment at the running practice is really cool,” Cornwall said. “Then they don’t just see you as a tutor.”