May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and here is what our Healthy and Ready for the Future initiative is doing to raise awareness and promote mental health.
By Catalina Norby, Program Specialist, Health, UnidosUS
Mental health is an essential part of our overall health and happiness. For children and adolescents, promoting positive social-emotional development and well-being can influence their present and future behavior, learning, and health outcomes.
UnidosUS’ Healthy and Ready for the Future program began in 2016 as an initiative primarily focused on connecting Latino children in rural areas with a dental home and essential services, but over the past three years, it has also incorporated and underlined the importance of social-emotional well-being and mental health.
Social-emotional well-being can also be looked at as mental health, which, put simply, means our capacity to manage our thoughts, feelings, and behavior positively so we can enjoy life, maintain positive relationships, and work toward our goals.
Latino children in the United States, whether immigrants themselves or part of immigrant families, are at a high risk of behavioral health issues stemming from poverty, exposure to trauma, assimilation stressors, and discrimination.
As stated in UnidosUS’s recent report Latino Infants: A Continuing Imperative, Latino children and Latino infants specifically are caught in a cycle of inequality that slows access to the resources and opportunities they need to adequately learn and thrive, which then results in a multitude of issues later in life.
This cycle of inequalities, along with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has contributed to increased reports of Latino youth in 9th–12th grade (46%) feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. There has also been evidence of Latino youth experiencing more depressive symptoms than their White peers and higher rates of attempted suicide for Latina students when compared with their White peers. These issues fill the lives of the Latino community, with researched evidence showing just how devastating the results are.
To tackle this ongoing battle and to prevent more Latinos from experiencing poor mental health and its effects, we must provide and advocate for culturally responsive outreach and education to increase awareness of the importance of mental health, as well as of the need for equitable mental health care. And we must start early.
The UnidosUS Healthy and Ready for the Future initiative has created the Abriendo Puertas – Opening Doors curriculum to increase awareness about the social and emotional health of children and how to better support their developmental needs, especially between the ages 0–5. With Abriendo Puertas, parents learn how to guide the learning and healthy development of their children and equip them with the tools to support their mental health in the future.
Starting at the very beginning of one’s life can help foster a strong sense of self in all its aspects—self-concept, self-awareness, self-regulation, self-esteem, self-confidence, etc.—which is foundational for strong mental health into adulthood.
UnidosUS’s Healthy and Ready for the Future initiative promotes social and emotional well-being and provides oral and behavioral health care services for Latino children, especially those from migrant and seasonal farmworker families, across rural America. It is supported by the Red Nose Day Fund at Comic Relief US, Bristol Myers Squibb, and General Motors. Since 2016, along with eight of our Affiliate partners, we’ve served just over 80,000 children with essential health care services, helping them thrive across 138 rural communities in 15 states. This Mental Health Awareness Month, donate to the Red Nose Day campaign to continue to help us serve more Latino children like Santos and ensure that the leaders of tomorrow have a healthy future.