September 18, 2019

Latino Behavioral Health Services provides culturally relevant mental health support for Latinos

A peer mentor speaks to a group of women about mental health. Latino Behavioral Health Services operates as a peer-run organization in a supportive group environment.   Photo courtesy of Latino Behavioral Health Services|||| A peer mentor speaks to a group of women about mental health. Latino Behavioral Health Services operates as a peer-run organization in a supportive group environment. Photo courtesy of Latino Behavioral Health Services|||| ||||

By Katherin Nelson

Carla Astorga suffered a psychotic break that landed her in the hospital in 2014. At the time, she suffered from a level of anxiety and depression so severe it was difficult for her to leave her home. However, with support, mentoring and services provided by Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS), she was able to recover so fully that she became a certified peer support specialist who is now able to provide the same type of support for others that she once needed. She even won the LBHS’ Peer of the Year award for the state of Utah in 2019.

“Carla is the best example of what we’re about at Latino Behavioral,” said Julia Martinez, Development Director and Therapist at LBHS. “The ultimate goal for us is to have an impact on the larger health care system and their responses to the needs of the Latino community by putting Latinos in that system [as] peer mentors, social workers or part of the administration, so there is more of a representative voice in the state system,” said Martinez.

LBHS is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 2013 when a group of Spanish-speaking advocates got together to try to bring programs from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Spanish to Salt Lake City. Eventually, with the help of various partners, like Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA) and the state of Utah, they evolved into a peer-run organization whose goal is to “enhance mental health awareness and well-being of people with mental illness, their care-givers and loved ones through support, education, empowerment, facilitation of resources and services with competent responsiveness to cultural, socio-economic and linguistics characteristics.”

Located at 3471 West Temple, LBHS provides a variety of low-cost and free services tailored to Latino cultural needs. Services include therapy, peer-to-peer mentoring, classes and support groups promoting and treating mental health issues.

“Latinos have a different experience of life - and cultural beliefs are a huge part of mental illness,” said Martinez of the charge to provide culturally relevant services to the Latino community. “Inherently there are higher rates of trauma in that population, so that the need for mental health services can be a lot greater.” Martinez says that the experience of immigration can create a lot of trauma when precipitated by things like gang violence, poverty and extortion.

Even for second-generation immigrants, the urgency for mental health services in the Latino community is strong, as rates for suicidal behaviors in Latina girls are “almost twice as high as other populations,” explained Martinez. “Being bicultural, especially for teens, I think, is a super difficult place, trying to navigate between two worlds and their demands, and not really fitting in 100 percent in either.”

LBHS serves approximately 600 - 700 Latinos annually, and offers all services in Spanish. They strive to be not only a service provider, but also a community. As Martinez expressed, “Community involvement and that sense of relational wants is much higher in the Latino community. That is not something you’re ever going to get if you walk into a clinic that is rooted in our dominant culture. People are really turned off by the lack of that and they don’t come back for services.”

The community involvement is seen in the peer-run model of LBHS and many patrons end up getting involved and becoming trained to be teachers, peer-group facilitators, and mentors.  Martinez implores that services are available to anyone. To take advantage of the services, or get involved as a volunteer, contact LBHS at: