Most Spanish speakers in Santa Barbara County who responded to a survey about impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic said it had no effect on their mental health speakers, while the majority of English said their mental health was worse.
A greater percentage of Spanish speakers handled any mental health issues on their own, didn’t know who to turn to for help, were too embarrassed to seek help and didn’t want friends and family to know they needed help, according to a report on the survey delivered to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
English speakers reported a greater number of impacts on their well-being from the pandemic and their impacts were different from those reported by Spanish speakers, the survey found.
Already, the county has requested proposals for two ideas Behavioral Wellness Department staff gleaned from the survey responses that can be funded, and those services are expected to begin as early as June.
“This started out with the pandemic, but it really is a discussion about our system of care,” 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson seems said, noting it the stigma of needing mental health assistance is starting to go away. “It seems like it’s a new day for addressing those important needs.”
Suzanne Grimmesey, public information officer and chief of strategy and community engagement for the department, outlined the results of the COVID-19 Community Mental Health Impact Survey taken by more than 4,730 residents.
Overall, 61% of county residents who were surveyed reported their mental health is worse as a result of the pandemic, while 35% said the pandemic had no impact and 4% actually said it improved their mental health.
But comparing the responses by primary languages, 65% of English reported their mental health was worse, while only 25% of Spanish speakers said it was worse.
Although 67% of Spanish speaker said the pandemic had no impact on their mental health, only 31% of English speakers made that statement. Among those reporting their mental health was actually better, 8% were Spanish speakers and 4% were English speakers.
In measuring anxiety levels, the survey found 32% of English speakers had conditions that would qualify as clinical anxiety, while 18% of Spanish speakers qualified.
Similar results were reported for clinical measures of depression, with 22% of English speakers with symptoms that qualified as clinical depression compared to 12% for Spanish speakers.
Impacts on well-being most commonly cited by Spanish speakers were anxiety, family, finances, contracting COVID-19, isolation, stress, fear and loss of work.
Impacts cited by English speakers were work, isolation, daily activities, sense of control, job stress, finances, fatigue, feeling worthless, stress and anxiety, worry about getting sick, depression, loneliness and existing mental health symptoms getting worse.
“I really like the fact you broke out English and Spanish responses, because I think it again shines a light on how we have to be culturally sensitive and culturally aware that people … even might be experiencing the same thing as their neighbor but they’re viewing it in a different manner,” 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said.
“The fact that Spanish speakers were kind of downplaying, almost, the impact it had on them when we know that it cost people jobs,” he said. “It really put a strain on people.”
Grimmesey said those who took the survey were offered the opportunity to provide their contact information for return calls to provide references for assistance.
“The data that we learned through the survey tell us the ‘what,’” Grimmesey said. “But what we were missing from looking at the survey and the paper and the numbers was the ‘why,’ and that’s where the calls back to talk to real-life people about their experiences and the focus groups we led became critical.”
She said researchers found that the need to connect with other people was vital to people’s mental health, and that was something the restrictions imposed to control the pandemic took away.
“Countywide, people asked for opportunities to connect,” Grimmesey said. “People are just yearning for opportunities to connect.”
One of the initiatives developed from the survey is a plan to train “community gatekeepers,” like barbers, hairdressers, restaurant workers and business employees, to recognize behavioral health symptoms among people they come into contact with on a daily basis.
They would also be trained to provide people looking for help with references to appropriate agencies and programmes.
“I really think this idea of using ‘trusted messengers’ in professional services the people access daily is a great way to get this information to people who need it when they are really open to it, and from a different nontraditional way,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.
The other request for proposals is for developing easy ways for people to interact with each other, groups and activities.
Grimmesey said once such systems are set up, they will not only help with recovery from the pandemic but will also be in place to help with recovery from future disasters.