Isolation, depression add to immigrant challenges
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1-800-273-8255, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
888-207-4004, Mind Springs Health crisis line
Mind Springs Health locations across the Western Slope, www.mindspringshealth.org
Free tool provided by Mind Springs: MyStrength.com, available in Spanish and English
Family Resource Center, available at every Roaring Fork School District school, http://frc.rfsd.k12.co.us
Aspen Hope Center, 24-hour Hopeline 970-925-5858, www.aspenhopecenter.org
Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition, information on prevention classes, 970-948-6108
Online tool provided
www.Mantherapy.org Colorado’s website geared toward men
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Narcotics Anonymous meetings, www.na.org
Al-Anon Family Groups, www.al-anon-co.org
Early in her work with the Valley Settlement Project’s Parent Mentor program, Eloisa Duarte experienced a horrible setback that added urgency to her efforts to recruit immigrant women.
A parent with whom she had been talking committed suicide.
“I had spent time with her,” Duarte recalled. “I had a hard time, a very sad time.
“I am standing,” she added, “only because of hope and strong dreams about this country.”
The tragedy highlights a largely hidden mental health struggle among some immigrants, who in many instances are afraid to reach out for help and uncertain where to turn.
At the extreme, this can play out in shocking ways, such as the case of Maria Alvarado-Gomez of Carbondale, who earlier this summer was sentenced to six years in prison for feeding her daughters, 8 and 11, rat poison.
Having been hospitalized for depression briefly before the incident in 2014, Alvarado-Gomez planned to kill herself and didn’t think her daughters would be safe without her. She told police she “would rather the children be dead than alive in Mexico,” where she said the girls’ father wanted to take them.
“I was very ill at that moment,” she said via interpreter at her sentencing. “I just wanted to sleep and not wake up, and I wanted to have my daughters with me.”
Many immigrants, mental health professionals and advocates say, face loneliness, low self-esteem and depression. They lose contact with many relatives and friends from their home regions, and some lose professional status.
“Many are highly educated, career-bound people who can’t work in their profession here because of licensing requirements,” noted Linda Carson Shaw, a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Basalt. That role change can be very difficult to deal with and can feed a downward mental spiral.
ISOLATION OF PARENTING
In many instances, male immigrants work long hours and are able to interact with co-workers while their partners are home and afraid to step into the new culture.
In addition, “Having a child can be very isolating if you don’t have other mothers to talk to in your own language,” Carson Shaw said.
Adapting to a new home and culture “is extremely hard,” said Hanya Gottardo, who leads family support services for the Valley Settlement Project. “This is a trauma on its own called acculturation trauma.”
Immigrants, some of whom lack papers to be in the country and almost all of whom have come “to a new culture with totally different expectations,” Gottardo noted, can “tend to isolate and get depressed.”
She added that many families settling here “come from extremely violent places,” carrying with them the trauma of that experience.
Communities and mental health professionals must find ways to reach immigrants, get them involved in communities and let them know help is available, experts and advocates said.
“If we turn a blind eye, we have these tragedies,” said Ross Brooks, CEO of Mountain Family Health Centers. “The results can be suicide sometimes and excessive substance abuse. ERs end up getting hammered.
“In time, we can expect the health of the community to decline,” he said.
Despite obstacles to treatment, including cultural differences, fear of deportation and finances, a growing array of mental health resources is available in the area. “We are heightening our awareness in serving this community,” said Sharon Raggio, president and CEO of Mind Springs Health, a leader in western Colorado mental health services. “We weren’t reaching enough Spanish-speaking people.”
The organization, which has outpatient centers in Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Aspen, has stepped up hiring of Spanish-speaking therapists, Raggio said, and has more of them than ever on staff. It also is in the process of translating its website into Spanish.
For two years, it has put behavior health professionals in Mountain Family Health’s clinics in Glenwood, Rifle, Edwards and Basalt.
Logistics in providing what’s needed can be complex, but “we are darned good at piecing things together,” Raggio said. “We can go to the home if necessary.”
It’s important, Raggio said, that immigrants have good experiences with professionals and let their friends and relatives know that they got help. “Stories like that are growing,” she said.
Still, many immigrants “are not used to having to reach out,” said Resa Hayes, a family counselor in Glenwood Springs. “A lot of Latino immigrants say, ‘Our family takes care of each other, but my family isn’t here.”
Gottardo, with the Valley Settlement Project, said it’s critical to build community support, such as through churches.
“Therapy is only one tiny piece of the solution,” she said. “People need a village.”
Duarte, who now directs the settlement project’s Parent Mentor program, is among those working on that.
“The secret of the Valley Settlement Project is giving the women something meaningful in their lives,” she said. Immigrants new to the country facing a language barrier “are living in a bubble.”
“When I start changing, I am able to leave the bubble.”
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