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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

Meet Hyattsville's new bilingual mental health program

 Written by: Alexa Figueroa 🇸🇻

Image via the City of Hyattsville's website

The City of Hyattsville, in collaboration with the Hope Center for Wellness, is launching a pilot program that will offer qualifying children and families free bilingual mental health services between July of this year to May of 2025, according to a press release by the City of Hyattsville.

Funding for the program’s creation and development came from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) per Sandra Shephard, the Director of Community Service and Programs for the city.

 To be eligible for the services, which include individual and family therapy, expressive arts support, and community wellness workshops members must be Hyattsville residents without medical insurance or have a certain annual income based on the size of their family household as indicated by the press release. 

“There's a lot of need, in terms of getting mental health services in the community, and we serve a large population of Latinos. There's also a gap of being able to find therapists who are bilingual, and is able to connect with the Latino population,”  Shephard said. 

Throughout the year, there will be three cohorts, and the ARPA grant permits individual therapy for up to 25 clients per cohort, with no  limit on the number of individuals that can attend the  community wellness workshops, according to Cheryl Aguilar, the Hope Center for Wellness’ founder and director. 

“The goal is to be able to talk about mental health, normalize mental health, be able to help individuals identify the signs, and be able to help them with strategies for coping,” said Aguilar. 

According to Shephard, she designed and created the program after council member Emily Strab decided to use the additional ARPA funds to establish a youth mental wellness program for the city. The Hope Center for Wellness then applied to submit a proposal for the initiative and was selected as the partner for the program.

“Mental health has been a priority for the city for a while now. And especially getting our youth back to a place of normalcy after the pandemic,” said Strab, a council member for the Hyattsville City Council. 

Data from the U.S. Census states that 31.2% of Hyattsville residents speak Spanish, and the city has 8,186 Latino residents as of 2020.

“We're doing our best to make sure that we provide and communicate that the services are in English and Spanish and basically serve the most vulnerable population that are in need of the services,” said Shephard. 

Astrid Mendoza, who has lived in Hyattsville since she was two-years-old and a psychology major at the University of Maryland says that when Spanish-speaking community members learn she’s studying psychology, they’ll often treat her as a mental-health counselor.   

“I see that need for wanting somebody to listen to them and wanting somebody to counsel them,” said Mendoza. 

Due to a language barrier, Mendoza often interpreted for her mother when she was younger. She says that a big problem with behavioral health services is the lack of accurate interpreters and the language barrier.

“I think it's really nice to see that barrier getting smaller and smaller. And it is very important for the services to be in Spanish,” said Mendoza. 

Aguilar said that most of the therapists are bilingual and specialize in working with diverse communities with interventions ranging from child play, cognitive behavioral health, and psychodynamic interventions. 

“Part of our goal with our practice, we want to be able to have providers who not only understand language-wise our clients but also culturally, and that's why the cultural component is really important to us,” said Aguilar.

Stephanie Hernandez, who has lived in Hyattsville her whole life said mental health services are typically inaccessible for minority communities and finds the initiative a great way to bridge the gap.  

“We don't really have many opportunities to have these therapies available for everyone. So just having this initiative of bringing care for youth and for families is really inspiring for me to hear,” said Hernandez, a Spanish-speaking resident. 

Hernandez is concerned that the pilot program will end after 2025 with no return, leaving residents who may need the services in the future without access.

“This is going to fall back in the hands of our council members to decide if they want to continue funding through the funds of  the city, " said Shephard.


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