HONOLULU (KHON2) — As Hispanic Heritage Month continues, KHON2.com wanted to explore some issues with which Hispanics in the United States deal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Psychological Association offers a good bit of statistical data and information on mental health issues that Hispanics can use to navigate.

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“For the Latinx/Hispanic community, mental health and mental illness are often stigmatized topics resulting in prolonged suffering in silence,” said a spokesperson for Mental Health America. This silence compounds the range of experiences that may lead to mental health conditions including immigration, acculturation, trauma, and generational conflicts.”

She went on to explain further.

“Additionally, the Latinx/Hispanic community faces unique institutional and systemic barriers that may impede access to mental health services, resulting in reduced help-seeking behaviors,” she added.

As of the 2020 Census, Hawaii’s population shows that 21% of residents speak Spanish as a first language, making Hispanics the largest growing group in the islands. This made KHON2.com wanted to get a closer look at mental health care for Hispanics in Hawaiʻi.

This is in light of the fact that 17.6% of U.S. citizens identify as Hispanic.

So, KHON2.com was able to catch up with Dr. Sanchez-Johnsen. She is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and is part of the brain power behind the work these organizations are doing for Hispanic Americans.

  • Owner, Multicultural Health and Wellness, PLLC.
  • Owner, Hawaiʻi Hispanic Latino Health and Wellness.
  • Owner, Hawaiʻi Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Consulting.
  • Chief Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Officer.
  • Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Hawaiʻi.
  • Diversity Representative: Hawaiʻi Psychological Association.
  • Chair: Diversity and Equity Steering Committee, Hawaiʻi Psychological Association.

Dr. Lisa’s family immigrated from Puerto Rico to Hawaii in 1900 when laborers were being courted to work on sugar plantations after a series of hurricanes destroyed Puerto Rico’s sugar industry.

Mental healthcare amongst the Hispanic populations of the U.S. has Dr. Lisa working and traveling between her home in Hawaii and one of her professional endeavors at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

With everything that Dr. Lisa is doing on the continent, she makes a point to bring all of her knowledge and experiences back to Hawaiʻi in order to make an impact to health and mental health of individuals in Hawaiʻi.

The CDC offered these statistics regarding mental health issues impacting Hispanic populations across the U.S.

  • The death rate from suicide for Hispanic men was four times the rate for Hispanic women, in 2018.
  • However, the suicide rate for Hispanics is less than half that of the non-Hispanic white population.
  • In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Hispanics, ages 15 to 34.1
  • Suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 30 percent higher than for non-Hispanic white girls in the same age group, in 2019.
  • In 2018, Hispanics were 50 percent less likely to have received mental health treatment as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
  • Poverty level affects mental health status. Hispanics living below the poverty level, as compared to Hispanics over twice the poverty level, are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress.

The CDC also provides a resource page for those who need access to them.

One of the issues that Dr. Lisa points to in contributing to mental health issues amongst Hispanic Americans is the loss of connection to their ancestral languages and cultures.

For, Dr. Lisa, her parents did not teach her to speak Spanish because they believed that the family needed to integrate into U.S. culture in order to survive. So, much history that connects people to their origins are lost for the sake of integration.

She was fortunate that her family maintained many of the traditions of Puerto Rico, allowing her family to bond and grow.

Much of Dr. Lisa’s work has been influenced by her later in life discovery of how precious her heritage is.

“In terms of my ethnic identity, it was when I left Hawaii for university that I began considering what my heritage means above and beyond my own experiences growing up in my family,” explained Dr. Lisa. “Because I think sometimes when you grow up in a family, and in a multicultural environment like Hawaii, you sometimes don’t have the greatest appreciation for your culture. I thought that that was just my family.”

It was her perspective that changed when she moved away from Hawaii. Dr. Lisa realized that her culture was much broader than only the Puerto Rican experiences. This made a huge impact on her on career. So, she has spent her life working for and with Hispanic and Latinx communities.

“But then I realized, I guess, in gaining a different perspective that, there’s this rich culture,” added Dr. Lisa. “And that’s when I fell in love more in love, I guess, and dedicated my life’s work to working with Hispanic.”

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It was these experiences along with the understanding of how large Spanish-speaking communities are throughout the U.S. that has led her to spend her life working for and with Hispanic and Latinx communities.