July 23 2018

For years, we’ve heard a variety of doctors and medical professionals say that high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the “silent killer.”

High blood pressure has no obvious symptoms. A seemingly healthy person would never even know, but hypertension is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.

Perhaps doctors and healthcare experts should start saying the same thing about mental health: a silent killer. We need to GET LOUD and address mental health concerns, such as childhood trauma, anxiety and depression. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to suicide, drug and alcohol addiction and many other health problems.

We also need to acknowledge that a person’s neighborhood–where they live–has an extraordinary impact on how they live. When families don’t have access to parks, grocery stores and effective schools, this creates stress and stress harms health. Now let’s take it a step further:  many of these underserved communities don’t even have sidewalks, streets or streetlights—the basics that any neighborhood should have.

Recognizing the many factors that play a role in our health, in 2013-14, Maternal and Child Health Access (MCHA), as part of The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities-Boyle Heights initiative (BHC-BH), began to research and prepare a report about health care for women and children in Boyle Heights.

The report, which is comprised of the voices of 60 women who filled out a survey and participated in group discussions with concerned professionals who offered valuable input, provided many revealing insights into the community, but the issue of mental health deserves particular mention because it’s routinely never mentioned.

“Many individuals and communities in Los Angeles are impacted by depression and substance abuse, and that is true whether a person has insurance or not. The My Health LA program offers extensive resources to help the uninsured access behavioral health care, but there is still much work we need to do to connect those in need to services,” said Amy Luftig-Viste, program director of My Health LA. .

The first step is to begin the conversation and remove the stigma. Boyle Heights is predominantly Latino and the topic of mental health is especially off limits in this demographic.

“There’s a stigma in the community and even in the church,” said a woman who was interviewed for the report.

“You’re ‘crazy’ if you need help for mental health,” another woman added. “That’s the taboo in the Latino community.”

In addition to the perceived shame that comes with discussing mental health, there still exists the more common barriers to receiving quality health care: access and proper communication/information. There remains a great deal of confusion, especially among undocumented families, about how to get care.

To address this, the report makes many key recommendations, but here are just a few: increase the population that is eligible for My Health LA and increase the ease of enrollment, and in general; train and recruit more Spanish-language medical providers overall; ramp up outreach to bilingual speakers in Boyle Heights to make them aware that medical interpretation is a career; and work to change the narrative within the community about female self-care and female sexuality.

At Boyle Heights BHC, the report has proven to be invaluable in our “#Health4All” campaign to close the health coverage gap. Information is power and we are using it to better our community.

Please check out the report here: MCHA Health Care for Women and Children Boyle Heights



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