M. Terry / SFVS

Latino immigrants too often don’t know the signs of serious mental illness, or seek help when there is a problem. Now a pilot public outreach campaign, managed by USC and known as La CLAVE, will try to respond to and assist those who may need help.

La CLAVE has begun a campaign in the communities of Pacoima, San Fernando and Sylmar to help families here learn how to identify symptoms of serious mental illness and promptly seek mental health services. The program will be available in English and Spanish, and employ a team of bilingual outreach coordinators who will make presentations and distribute information at local events and engage directly with the community.

La CLAVE is working its campaign in partnership with the San Fernando Mental Health Center in North Hills. The campaign was officially launched Wednesday night, Sept. 2, at a reception held in the Valley Family Center in San Fernando.

“We know that Latinos, and especially Spanish-speaking Latinos, don’t make areal good use of mental health services or tend not to use the services,” said Dr. Steven R. López, director of La CLAVE and a professor of psychology and social work at USC. His co-project director is Dr. Alex Kopelowicz, M.D.,  a professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences within UCLA’s School of Medicine and the medical director of San Fernando Mental Health Center.

Among the more serious signs of mental illness, López said, are delusions, hallucinations and disorganized speech. And the longer a situation lingers or evolves, the harder it can be to get professional care.

“On average people wait a year or so from the first episode (to get help),” López said. “If they can get attention right away, the symptoms are not as severe, it does not impact jobs and relations as heavily and they respond much better to treatment.”

López referred to a study of adults “of Mexican origin” in Fresno County in the 1990s. “[The study] found of the US-born Mexicans with mental disorders, only 12 percent reported using mental health services. But less than 5 percent of those of Mexican origin with mental disorders reported using services. Those numbers have gone up, according to a national study, but still lagging behind are immigrants: people who primarily speak Spanish or are of Mexican origin.”

 There may be “many reasons why” Latinos are not getting the services they need, López said. For example, people see some of these unusual behaviors and attribute it to stress or personal problems, “and don’t consider the possibility” of serious mental illness.

But La CLAVE’s campaign goal isn’t so much to try and understand why so few seek professional help but to get more Latinos to recognize illness and get them into treatment, López said.

Kopelowicz agreed that getting help is as important as early detection of symptoms.  “We have a wide array of services available to match a person or family’s needs. We just need to let people know we are here and are ready to help.”

Results from the project will serve as a model for future mental health outreach campaigns targeting Latinos. The project will run through the end of 2018 with results to be publicly shared to maximize the opportunities for public, community-based, and private-sector organizations to obtain and use.

For more information, go to the website uselaclave.com, or call the San Fernando Mental Health Center for services at (818) 832-2400.