When people have symptoms related to ear infections or diabetes or high blood pressure, they know they should schedule an appointment with a medical professional. When those same people feel anxious or depressed for weeks or months at a time, they often assume they should “snap out of it” or “pull themselves together.” Why?
Many factors prevent people from getting the behavioral health care they need. Some people do not understand that their symptoms are treatable. Others are too embarrassed, and still others have complex family and/or relationship dynamics that discourage them from seeking help.
At Hillside Health Center in Ukiah, behavioral (mental) health professionals like Xochilt Morales de Martinez understand the stigmas around mental health and are working to change them. Martinez is a nurse practitioner with 28 years of experience who focuses on the psychiatric needs of patients, and she and her medical colleagues work as a team to let patients know help is available.
As a bilingual, bicultural health professional, Martinez works primarily with Latino families and individuals, and says she sees many barriers to treatment. “There’s a tendency for families to try to deal with mental health issues within the family, which can actually worsen the situation in some cases,” she said. She explained that the person suffering from behavioral health symptoms feels pressured to make things better, but is not receiving the necessary treatment or support. Out of consideration for other family members, the person suffering will often try to hide how they feel, which makes them feel isolated, even as they are surrounded by loved ones.
In the case of a relationship conflict with their spouse or children, women often feel conflicted about seeking support to change the violent, conflict-based dynamic in the home. They hold back, because they do not want to break up the family, have their children removed from their home, and/or have their husband deported if he is in the country illegally. Martinez said, “Getting accurate information from professionals to avoid believing the wrong information shared by family and/or community members is very important.” Similarly, “sometimes couples need to learn healthier communication styles so they can deal with the issues—to learn to talk about the stressors in their lives,” she said.
One of the ways Martinez helps people recognize the importance of behavioral health is by focusing on the health of their children. Parents who would do anything for their children sometimes view counseling for themselves as selfish or self-indulgent, because it would mean taking time away from their family obligations. Martinez says when she can help parents understand that they will be doing their children a great service if they can be less depressed, less anxious, less paranoid, deal with their own trauma, or find support for marital problems, they are more likely to seek help.
Even when people recognize the need for treatment, and they have their family’s support, they often have trouble fitting it into their busy lives. Martinez says many patients ask for the last appointment of the day to avoid interrupting their work schedules, and for seasonal workers, even the last appointment of the day does not work on many occasions.
To see a behavioral health professional at Hillside Health Center, patients must first establish their medical care there. Hillside approaches health care from a whole-person perspective, recognizing that people’s medical and emotional symptoms are often related. Anyone who receives medical care at Hillside can ask their doctor or medical provider for a referral to see a behavioral health specialist.
Martinez encouraged people to talk to their doctor or nurse if they want to meet with someone from the behavioral health team, again focusing on the health of the children, if that is what will help people come in. She said, “When the parents don’t feel well, they pass those emotions on to their kids. Kids then do poorly in school, and if they see their parents suffering, kids may respond by wanting to take care of them, and are left alone to care for themselves. I encourage people to come talk to me to make sure they have the correct information based on their specific, individualized situation, so they can make the right decisions for what their family needs. I’m not here to judge. I’m just here to help,” she said.
For those who do not have health insurance or do not feel they can afford health care, Hillside Health Center has financial services specialists to help patients sign up for insurance or figure out a payment plan. No one is turned away because they cannot afford care.
To schedule an appointment, call (707) 468-1010 or visit mchcinc.org to learn more about MCHC Health Centers. Hillside Health Center is one of three MCHC Health Centers, providing medical, dental, and behavioral health care to local people.