Culture is the heartbeat of the La Clínica Hispana at Connecticut Mental Health Center, where clients find not just high-quality mental health care but also an extended family where people speak their language and understand their values.
Founded in 1973, La Clínica Hispana—the Hispanic Clinic—was the first clinic in the eastern United States to serve monolingual Spanish-speaking clients. Today it's a national model for culturally responsive mental health care. The clinic’s staff members not only provide a range of mental health services but also connect clients with whatever supports they need, including primary care, food, housing, immigration services, and other community resources.
Dr. Andrea Mendiola, a psychiatrist in the Hispanic Clinic, said the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone and clinic clients have faced a challenging combination of problems. In the first few months, many lacked technology (some still do). Clinicians worked heroically to help clients establish the online accounts they needed to access mental health services. They met people in parks, assisted with technology set-ups, and worked with clients to make plans for how they would attend virtual appointments. Thanks to support from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services and the Connecticut Mental Health Center Foundation, the Hispanic Clinic received tablets for use in the clinic, so clients have been able to come on-site and connect virtually with their clinicians.
Today, said Dr. Mendiola, while progress has been made, the Hispanic community lags behind the general population in terms of its pandemic recovery. Many clients continue to work in high-risk settings. The disappearance of vital community supports, especially family visits and church services, have taken a toll on Hispanic Clinic clients. Anxiety and depression have gotten worse. Many clients, especially those who are undocumented, are afraid to venture into the community to get vaccinated. Dr. Mendiola estimated that while roughly 20% of her clients had COVID, a much higher percentage have at least one close relative who has gotten very sick from COVID.
Still, despite the damages wrought by the pandemic, “It also showed us how resilient the Hispanic community is,” said Dr. Mendiola. “My clients will say, ‘I have lived in violence and poverty in my country. I crossed the border. I was kidnapped. This pandemic is nothing. We are going to get over this. It is a small step that we’re going to survive.’ And that resilience showed us how strong the community is, and that we need to support them and help them thrive.”
This article first appeared in the newsletter of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS). Connecticut Mental Health Center is a collaboration between DMHAS and the Yale Department of Psychiatry.