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'You are my other me:' Mental health clinic provides free services to Latinx community

  |   Gabriela Miranda   |   Permalink   |   Outreach,   Service and Community,   Spotlight,   Students and Faculty

Editor's note: The Red & Black has published two versions of this article, one in English and one in Spanish. Special thanks to Beatriz Montalvo, CNN en Español, for contributing to the translation.

When Edward Anthony Delgado-Romero was a child, he witnessed the "immigrant spirit" in his Colombian mother, a mindset of creating what isn't available to you.

As a professor of counseling psychology at the University of Georgia, Delgado-Romero realized Athens lacked Spanish-speaking mental health clinicians. According to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data, the Latinx population in Athens is 10.7%. Delgado-Romero, who is also an Associate Dean in UGA's College of Education, created a free counseling clinic to fill this need for the community.

The mental health clinic, previously named ¡BIEN! Clinic—"bien" meaning "good"—now has a new name suited for its vision.

"[The clinic's new name is] La Clinica in LaK'ech, from a Mayan greeting that means 'you are my other me,'" Delgado-Romero said. "The team picked the name to emphasize that we believe in collective liberation, we are all in this together."

The clinic opened in 2011, offering free counseling services under Delgado-Romero as a licensed psychologist and his team of doctoral students in counseling psychology or master of social work programs. Each student is either bilingual or Latinx themselves, Delgado-Romero said.

When the clinic first opened, the team saw about 40 people per year, but now the team books about 500 sessions per year, Delgado-Romero said. It focuses on providing free counseling to clients and refers to those in need of prescribed medicine or further medical assistance to Mercy Health Center, a Christian nonprofit clinic in Athens. Delgado-Romero said the success of the clinic lies in the power of the existence of Spanish speaking or Latinx clinicians.

"A lot of times clients come in and say [they] didn't think there was anybody who looked like [them] who was a doctor," Delgado-Romero said. "When they can speak freely it breaks down that stigma about getting help."

Aside from language barriers, Delgado-Romero and other volunteer clinicians explained the stressors and trauma some clinic patients experience. The current increase of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids has incited fear, which leads to isolation, and in some cases, paranoia, Delgado-Romero said. In fiscal year 2019, 10,951 immigrants were deported from Georgia, according to TRAC Immigration, a data project of Syracuse University. In fiscal year 2016, 7,635 were deported.

Delgado-Romero said "unwelcoming" state and federal policies toward Latinx immigrants spans back years and is an on going issue for the community.

Under federal law, undocumented immigrants are denied public benefits such as health care, except in special circumstances deemed "necessary to protect life and safety." Georgia's law also requires individuals seeking other public benefits — such as food stamps — to provide government-recognized identification, but undocumented individuals have difficulty obtaining the sufficient documentation needed to file for such identification.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 increased funding and resources for investigating immigration status and enforcing federal immigration laws.

Additionally, the Georgia Board of Regents does not allow undocumented students to enroll in its "most selective institutions," including UGA and Georgia Tech, and prohibits undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition at other Georgia schools.

"I think people worry a lot," Delgado-Romero said. "I think kids worry about their parents when they go to school."

The clinicians believe stressors for their clients include lack of basic necessities such as banking accounts, life and health insurance or anti-immigration policies.

Jacqueline Fuentes traveled from Southern California to be a part of the clinic and the program. Fuentes hopes to shed light on social justice within the Latinx community, where some people live in "constant fear" due to racial tensions.

Though not born into the Latinx community, second-year master of social work student Anna McConaghie became interested in the Latinx population and its needs after studying abroad in Spain in 2014 and later in Argentina in 2015. She sought to join the clinic to aid clients who lack access to basic necessities.

"They lack access to everything—payments, insurance, so much," McConaghie said.

The local clinic not only focuses on the mental health of its patients but also its student clinicians. During weekly meetings, the clinic's team discusses their emotions and any obstacles they have faced. Delgado-Romero said the trauma the population faces can be "overwhelming" for students, so the students rely on one another for a reprieve.

Although at times their job is "emotionally taxing," Delgado-Romero said, the clinicians continue to serve the Latinx community with distinct goals and passions pushing them forward.

"I was raised in Atlanta but immigrated from Mexico. I noticed in my community the need for mental health services that were accessible and bilingual," Elizabeth Cardenas Bautista, second-year Counseling Psychology doctoral student and clinic coordinator said. "That's what this clinic is doing."

Rebekah Estevez married into the Latinx community and said the clinicians are family as well, each of them fighting for the same cause. Estevez said she intends on using her privilege as a "white person" to help the Latinx community.

Despite their backgrounds, each clinician works to facilitate the needs of their Latinx clients, both now and in their future careers.

"We all are doing a form of social justice at the clinic," Fuentes said. "And we are increasing representation of our community. We're proud."

© University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602