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Skagit County to try new approach to mental health in minority communities
Skagit Valley Herald - 9/23/2022
Sep. 21—Skagit County is deploying a new, community-led approach to mental health care.
By talking and listening to minority communities, the Mental Health Matters program is designed to find solutions that have been missed by traditional health care, and solutions to its rigid focus on diagnoses and treatment.
"The bottom line is: if you ask, and they tell you, you listen and you do it," said Jody Early, a University of Washington Bothell professor and co-director of the program. "Why try to make it more difficult, if the community is truly the experts here?"
One aspect of the program involves training members of different communities on how to have difficult conversations about mental health, and encouraging them to fight the stigma associated with treatment in their communities.
The program has seen success in Snohomish County, and the team is excited to adapt it to Skagit County.
Early and her team are planning to spend the next few months researching who these marginalized communities are, where they gather and what their needs are.
Here in Skagit County, a focus of the project will be the Latino community, said George Kosovich, administrative manager with county Public Health.
The Latino community struggles with access to mental health care, in part because these systems and services aren't built with their needs in mind.
"There's different understandings of mental health and wellness," Kosovich said. "Not every culture approaches the topic in the same way.
"That's why this particular Mental Health Matters project connected with us. It's about breaking down stigma and access barriers, and building a bridge between clinical providers and community members."
The Skagit County Board of Commissioners agreed to use a portion of the money the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund the program.
While there's a shortage of mental health professionals overall, those who speak languages other than English and have a strong understanding of other cultures are even rarer, said Sandra Huber, co-director of the program and community engagement manager with Verdant Health Commission, which funded the program in Snohomish County.
Training community members on how to broach topics related to mental health with friends and family members helps to build trust and engagement with mental health care providers, she said.
"They're that bridge between the services and what the community needs, and they're trusted community leaders," Huber said.
Early said once the program is up and running here, the goal will be to train 30 of these peer navigators per year.
In Snohomish County, the team has also hosted a number of roundtable discussions on topics such as trauma or grief through a cultural lens, and will do the same in Skagit County, she said.
What they learned, she said, is that a lot of the assumptions about what is and isn't mental health was wrong. Participants reported they find comfort in art, music, dance and "other things that also bring people a sense of community, of belonging," she said.
Annika Sahota, program manager and research assistant, said the program is about letting participants have more of a say in treatment.
Rather than pushing a model of mental health care onto these communities, she said she aims to ask them how they could be well, and serve as a bridge between existing services and the community.
"Especially in our community of color, we don't always have the best history with these governmental systems," she said.
— Reporter Brandon Stone: firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH
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