Latino Minnesotans seeking treatment for chemical dependency are getting an extra helping hand this year. Last month, the Minnesota Department of Health awarded a $750,000 grant to Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES) for their work to help the state’s Latino population understand and kick their addictions.
For almost four decades, CLUES has been providing culturally specific mental health and chemical dependency treatment to Minnesota’s Latino population, which advocates say is particularly prone to drug and alcohol abuse and addiction but don’t always benefit from more traditional substance abuse programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.
On Oct. 11, CLUES will be celebrating 35 years of providing Latino-focused health and wellness services in the Twin Cities, even as advocates recognize that there are still a lot of unmet needs. “There’s still a shortage today,” said CLUES Development and Communications Associate Grace Grinager. “Although there’s definitely more availability now than there was back in the early ‘80s.”
Latinos make up about five percent of Minnesota’s population, according to the latest census data. And according to the state demographer’s office, between 2010 and 2015 Minnesota’s Latino population grew by 13 percent, or 32,000 people.
A 2016 report from the Minnesota Department of Human Services shows that Hispanics still make up a disproportionate percentage of those admitted into drug treatment centers. And while there are several service providers for drug abuse in the Twin Cities who speak Spanish, CLUES remains one of the only major mental health and substance abuse treatment providers that addresses the cultural differences among their Spanish-speaking clientele — many of whom face significant stigma in their community or who experienced trauma. “It’s not only being fluent in Spanish but also understanding Latino cultures and values,” Grinager said.
José Picón, who manages the chemical health services program at CLUES, said it’s common to see Latino immigrants coming into Minnesota not only suffering from depression but from feelings of isolation. Many of his clients come from Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, he said, where they’ve fled dangerous conditions and are often separated from family members. And for Latino culture, he said, that’s a big deal. “We’re a very collective community,” Picón said. “We’re not independent. We depend on the family and make decisions as a family.”
His clients have a lot of trauma to work out, he said, and when they don’t have family to fall back on for support, they often turn to drugs and other substances to self-medicate.
CLUES Director of Behavioral Health Mauricio Cifuentes said he’s seen a lot of the same. Cifuentes has worked with Latino populations in the mental health field for over a decade and he said his clients come from all different countries and immigrated for many different reasons. But since they’ve all experienced some type of trauma such as extreme poverty or violence back home, it’s common to find depression and anxiety prevalent among them.
“Not only do we need to be more responsive to the increasing numbers,” Cifuentes said, “but we also need to become more attuned to potential issues that the new immigrants are bringing and how to address them.”
But Picón said there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding getting treatment for mental health and chemical dependency in the state’s Hispanic communities, even though there are plenty who need it. “For the clients that we see, for them to access mental health or chemical health, they think that’s for crazy people,” he said.
Because of that, Picón said, traditional substance abuse programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, which often require participants to open up to strangers, don’t typically work out for Latinos. “They just don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
Instead, Picón said, treatment centers need to see that Latino clients typically have a strong bond with their family and that’s the key to getting them to open up to receiving help. At CLUES, he said, they spend a lot of time building trust among a small cohort who they meet with for several months, and they work towards educating their clients to break down those stigmas and talk to their families about their problems.
Other substance abuse programs also force their participants to “give themselves to a higher power” or see the addiction as just a disease, Picón said, and that can also be problematic for his clients, who already face issues with identity and feeling powerless as they try to fit into a new culture.
For many, Picón said, they simply need help feeling empowered again and regaining a sense of self. “Coming here [to Minnesota], they need to redefine themselves in our culture and how they fit in,” he said. “There’s more positive outcomes when you help them recognize their strengths rather than their weaknesses.”