Utah’s air: Not good for what ails you

Inversion

Brace yourself — The inversion is coming. This is the text of a bumper sticker.

Story and photos by SARAH SAIDYKHAN

On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers of what is now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived on the outskirts of the Great Salt Lake Valley looking for a new place to corral their wagons and set up camp. The church’s archives state that as Young gazed over the vast and barren land sprawled out before him, he said, “This is the right place.”

City View

Salt Lake City.

Nowadays we know that what Brigham Young was looking at were massive mountain ranges surrounding a desert-valley landscape. This mountain range design creates a makeshift bowl that protects the valley from strong winds and other harsh elements. Along with adventurous recreation, the mountains assist in creating high- and low-pressure systems that trap toxic particulate matter in the air during winter inversions and smoke-filled haze pollution resulting from possible summertime fires.

Kellie McCleve lives in the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley and is a mom to five kids under the age of 14. From her home, she is able to see the smog pollution that covers the Valley. She said, “Sometimes the sky’s so gross you can’t see anything but like, a yucky, brownish haze. It covers the whole Valley.” McCleve said that when she takes her kids into the city, she has a mask for each of them to wear. “It’s so gross! We shouldn’t be breathing that in. No one should be breathing that in.”

Smog Lake City

Light haze covering the Salt Lake Valley.

But every day, hundreds of thousands of people do breathe it in. McCleve said that when she moved, the inversions were something she could see from a distance. But now she knows her home was never actually immune. “I worry because when we moved out of the city, I really thought we escaped it, we didn’t. We just see it now from a distance. It’s always around us but it’s worse down in the Valley.” McCleve believes that no one person can fix the depleted air quality and for now, she continually looks for ways to lower her carbon footprint saying, “We’re all responsible for the problem and that means, we’re all responsible for cleaning it up. If we don’t, we’re all in trouble.”

Today, Utah is home to over three million people and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute projects that by 2065, Utah will be home to roughly six million people. Even as the state grows more diverse, there is still an environmental justice divide visible in the Valley.

The east side houses a predominantly white population. One can usually find new and remodeled schools and readily available public transportation. There are pricey coffee shops every few blocks and multiple grocery stores within walking distance where residents can purchase organic, fresh fruits and vegetables. The east side of the Valley also sits at a higher elevation and in a way, overlooks the west side. But even at higher elevations, the air is still filling with particulate matter from emissions, just not at the same levels as what accumulates in the air down on the Valley floor.

West Side Industry

Westside industry.

The west side of the Valley houses a large majority of Utah’s lower-income families. There’s more diversity in the communities and predominantly, most people of color live on the Valley’s west side. Grocery stores are spread miles apart from residents, creating food deserts, and there’s a significant lack of public transportation. Instead of coffee shops and farmers markets littered throughout the neighborhoods, there are factories, refineries and major transportation, and trucking hubs all contributing to the air quality.

With the depleted air quality in the Valley, who is affected the most? Anthony Sudweeks is one of the principals at Wallace Stegner Academy (WSA), located on Bending River Road on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. The school offers a free, college preparatory education for grades K-8. With over 600 students, the majority of kids attending WSA are Hispanic, students of color and/or from low-income families who reside in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

Sudweeks said he is asked by parents frequently, “Can you keep all the kids inside for indoor activities?” As much as he wishes that were possible, it’s not a reality. A few days of inside play are OK, but kids need to run and expel their energy so they can pay attention and learn while the teacher is instructing. Instead of packing hundreds of energy-filled kids in a crowded lunchroom like sardines in a can, the school adheres to strict guidelines on how the red, orange and yellow days are handled.

utahblueskyslc

A “green day” in Utah.

Sudweeks said, “On red days, no kids play outside. On orange and yellow days, students with asthma or heart conditions, who have to have a doctor’s form filled out, don’t go outside.”

The school uses one of the state’s outdoor air quality monitoring websites to decide who or if any students go outside during the orange and yellow days. “There are air testing monitors that the state funds all over the place,” Sudweeks said. “There’s one about two blocks from here.” He and the other employees at WSA are vigilant in making sure that the kids are not outside when the inversions are happening and when the air quality monitors show that any unnecessary exposure to the air would not be safe.

WSA checks the air quality website multiple times daily because, even though the weather is not the culprit, the pressure systems may change from morning to afternoon. But Sudweeks said, “It’s not really dependent on the weather. High- and low-pressure fronts can change it, but the air quality’s not very unpredictable. It’s predictable. In the morning we know what it’s going to be like in the afternoon, it doesn’t randomly change. It doesn’t predict green and turn into a red.”

Sudweeks did say that during the winter inversions the forecast will sometimes show a yellow day in the morning, but by the afternoon it will have turned into a red day. Those days, he said, “It’s a constant check, constant.”

An inversion builds, trapping pollution.

The area of WSA is surrounded by four major freeways. Sudweeks explained that the neighborhoods around the school are some of the worst polluted spots in the state when it comes to bad air quality. So, why knowingly put a school in an area that suffers from some of the most polluted air in the state? “Because this is where our students live,” Sudweeks said. “This is Glendale, and most of our students live in Glendale. If we moved the school somewhere else, what we’d be saying is, these kids don’t deserve a good charter school.” Glendale is a suburb of Salt Lake City and according to Statistic Atlas, roughly 40 percent of the population living there is Hispanic.

Sudweeks quickly affirmed, “This is their neighborhood and these kids absolutely deserve to have a great school in their own neighborhood.” He said that one of the reasons why the school’s location was decided was “to make sure that the kids living in some of the most polluted and lower-income parts of the city still have access to the best education possible.”

Sudweeks explained the environmental justice issues the school and area are facing. “It’s a nationwide phenomenon where the lower the income neighborhoods are, the more likely they are to live in bad air quality. Nearer to freeways and industrial areas.” He said that’s also particularly true in Utah. The area is economically growing and with that growth brings large diesel-fueled trucks, more traffic, congestion and, overall increased pollution.

Winter Smog

Eastside winter smog — University of Utah’s family housing.

Sudweeks also ran for state legislature in 2018. One of his platforms was Utah’s air quality, more specifically, the air quality monitors and their need to be updated. He said, “They need about $3 million invested into them because they’re falling apart. The session before the last, they voted to not put any money into them and this last session they put $1 million. But they are in desperate need of upgrades on the monitors themselves.”

Sudweeks said he feels like the majority of the legislature just doesn’t care because it would mean truly facing the air pollution problem. “They just pretend like it’s an issue we have no control over, which is not true.” Sudweeks said the state could completely move to Tier 3 fuel, which is low in sulfur and according to the EPA, reduces carbon dioxide emissions into the air.

Sudweeks said the state is also needing a revamp of the public transit system to meet the needs of the people. “Buses don’t get people on public transits, trains do,” he said. “We’re a big enough county where we could justify a large investment into public transits. Because of our air quality needs, we have no business not investing heavily in public transits.” Sudweeks referenced the recent legislature and said, “No money for public transit, but a lot of money for widening and expanding roads.”

He said Utah’s inversions give residents a false sense of security in believing the air is only bad when inversions are happening. A large study by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health agrees. The study found that EPA standards may not be strict enough in preventing premature deaths from air pollution. The research showed that if particle pollutions in the air could be lowered by roughly 10 percent, the death rates of people 65 and older would be lowered, possibly saving 7,000 to 10,000 lives each year.

Hazy City

Haze building over the Salt Lake Valley.

Improvements to the air quality in Utah have been made over the years. Technological advancements created cars that run on natural gas and batteries. Electric vehicles, trains and buses are carrying more people around the Salt Lake Valley, reducing the need to get in a gas-operated vehicle for a quick drive to the store. More homes are being powered through renewable solar energy, and in general, more people are aware of the issues of air pollution and what contributes to it. Still, with all the improvements, there is a visible racial divide when it comes to air we breathe.

Rep. Angela Romero represents Salt Lake Valley’s House District 26. She is also one of the many advocates fighting for clean air in Utah. Of the roughly 39,000 people living in her district, almost 60 percent are Hispanic and people of color.

Romero said in a phone interview that when the topic of air pollution comes up, people have to realize there’s more to it than just air pollution. “There’s an environmental justice concern for those affected the most.” The EPA recognizes environmental justice as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, and income with regard to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulation, and policies. This means that every person living has a right to a fair and meaningful life and protection from environmental and health hazards. This is not the case for hundreds of thousands of people living in the most polluted parts of the Valley bowl.

Romero said, “Most working-class communities and communities of color, live in areas that are more industrial, so they’re going to be exposed to more toxins in the air than others.” She and her colleagues are looking at the intersectionality of all issues facing people of color and marginalized communities. “We’re not looking at how they collide and how they displace people, it’s how they all work together,” Romero said.

As the Valley becomes denser in population, Utahns must continue being vigilant in finding and implementing ways to stay ahead of the added pollution. Romero said, “It’s kind of hard for us to solve the problem if we’re not coming up with innovative ways to address it [air pollution].”

Public Transportation

Riding public transit lowers dependence on fossil fuels.

Cleaning up the air is not a one-person job. It’s everyone’s job to work together to make it better. Romero said that a lot of time people want to put all the blame on industry and other heavy air polluters. But, she said, “We don’t look at ourselves and what small things we can do when we’re looking at air quality and energy. How do we play a role in that? What are some practices that we can change in our own lives?”

Romero said she’d like to see the state focus on using more renewable energy sources like adding roof-top solar panels to all state-run buildings and offering higher discounts to homes using solar panels. Businesses and homes can also update their heating and air-conditioning units to function more efficiently. Romero said it comes down to all residents making the commitment to change the habits that are contributing to the depleted air quality.

Utah has over 200 sunny days a year. Roof-top solar is an important investment for Utah’s future economy. More importantly, using a 100 percent renewable and clean energy source can help to improve the long-term health of all residents.

In the Salt Lake Valley’s mountain landscape environment, there will always be air pollution concerns. “We have inversions,” Romero said, “and they’re never going to go away, but what can we do to be more proactive, so we don’t make them worse?” Romero said that people can make little changes like taking public transit. Even though it may take a bit longer to get somewhere, plan for it and make it part of the routine. Walk or ride a bike if only going short distances and carpool whenever possible. The more we drive, the more we’re creating dirtier air with our cars. Romero said, “Getting people out of their vehicles and onto public transportation is a great way to start.”

Bikes are readily available around the city.

About the future of Utah’s air quality, Romero said, “We’re trying to be more proactive. We’re looking at inversions and air quality and we’re looking at it more from a public health perspective.” She also said, “If we truly want to change the route we’re going, we have to reevaluate systems that are in current existence. It’s not only about communities of color and marginalized communities. It’s about us as an entire community.”

Romero said all it takes are small changes in everyday routines to help improve air quality. Any day is a great day, to start a new and healthy habit.

To make improvements to Utah’s air quality, follow the CLEAN AIR plan:

C: Carpool whenever possible
L: Limit cold starts on cars and combine trips
E: Engage in clean air advocacy
A: Access public transportation
N: Navigate smog ratings and engine types
A: Avoid unnecessary commutes
I: Idle less or not at all
R: Ride a bike or walk when possible

To learn more ways to help clean up Utah’s air, visit the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, Utah Department of Health, or Air Now.

 

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The sound and taste of Hispanic Culture— Utah Hispanic Heritage Parade

Story and photos by LINA SONG

The nonprofit organization Take Care Utah hosts the Hispanic Heritage Parade annually to share arts and culture and draw attention to the need for health insurance for Latinx children. It is a great example of sharing the arts of culture and bringing communities together to experience each other’s culture better. The events and performances promote community involvement and provide the chance to see, hear, and taste the traditions of the Hispanic culture in Utah. 

Randal Serr, the director of Take Care Utah at Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP), shares the growth and process of the parade over the past several years. The heritage parade is organized by the UHPP which is an organization that started in 2006. The main goal of the Take Care Utah organization is to reach out to the Hispanic community and raise the awareness of the health insurance needed for Hispanic children in Utah. 

Serr stated that after a study by Kids Count Data Center released in 2014 saying that Utah had the highest uninsured rate in the nation for Hispanic kids, they knew that they had to start thinking bigger about how to reach the Hispanic community and take action. By raising the seriousness uninsured Hispanic children, Take Care Utah offers themselves as a resource to help them sign up for health insurance and celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month. 

In September 2019, Hispanic Heritage Parade will hit its fourth annual parade. Since the start of the parades in 2016, the event has doubled in size every year. The first year started off with 2,500 people that attended the parade. The second year increased to the attraction of 5,000 people and the third year 10,000 people showed up to the parade. It takes place at The Gateway in Salt Lake City, Utah. With the increasing numbers of participants, there will be a higher benefit towards the UHPP goal and connecting communities together in Utah. 

The UHPP event is unique because it is the only event that celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with a parade. The Take Care Utah nonprofit organization is helping with community involvement and sharing the Hispanic arts of culture in Utah by including diverse sections which are dedicated to people having the ability to represent their country and culture of origin.

With the fourth annual UHPP approaching in September, Neida Munguia, a yearly participant of the parade discussed her thoughts and experiences of the event. Munguia stated that it has been fascinating to see the growth and the increase of participants throughout the past years. She believes that the parade benefits the Hispanic community by displaying and sharing a piece of home through the celebration of culture. Since Utah is filled with people from various ethnic backgrounds, the parade also enhances the connection within all communities to connect and learn about the Hispanic culture. 

Munguia also talked about how she wanted to see more marketing and advertisement for the UHPP because it is a beautiful and fun event that more people in the community should take part in. Furthermore, she expects that the growth of participants for this year’s parade will be significant and wants to see more food and larger dance performances. Munguia believes that due to the increase and acknowledgement of the UUHPP, the parades should expand the amounts of events and other factors in the future. 

 

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Community and inclusion in art — Latin social dancing in Utah

Story, photos and gallery by KRISTEN LAW

“There’s dance for everything. You don’t have to be a competitor, you don’t have to be a professional,” said Julio Morales, a professional Latin ballroom dancer and instructor in South Salt Lake.

Morales said that students come for many reasons: to increase health benefits, enjoy the community and socializing, or to compete and perform. “You get to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds who have different goals, so it’s a great community,” Morales said.

The purpose of Latin social dancing is to build community. Social dance is centered around socializing while engaging in different styles of dance. Morales said all of the styles have their own kind of “flavor.” Salsa is a “high-energy, happy dance,” Morales said. Merengue and bachata are Latin dances originating in the Dominican Republic but have slightly different characteristics from one another. Merengue, according to dance websites, is more of a traditional, lighthearted and festive Latin dance, whereas bachata is more of a sensual and intimate Latin dance.

DF Dance Studio located at 2978 State St. in South Salt Lake offers many Latin social dance classes that fit any level. The beginner Latin social dance classes encourage a comfortable and relaxed environment for learning the basics. DF Dance Studio provides professional performances for attendees for social dance nights to encourage beginners to come out and dance.

Some people come who have never danced before. Teachers are there for students to ask questions and make them feel comfortable.

Screenshot 2019-04-03 15.41.18

Hope Jackson (second from the right) watching the students dance during the Latin Nationals Prep Camp.

Beginner or not, even the professionals take classes. “I’m a professional, but I still take lessons from other professionals because we understand in our sport that we’re never too good to learn something,” said Hope Jackson, a professional dancer and instructor in Utah.

Kyle and Madelaine Treu grew up dancing a variety of styles of dance and now the professional dancers specialize in Latin American dancing. The couple teaches at a studio in Idaho Falls, Idaho, called Extreme Ballroom Company.

“Those who get the ‘bug’ are in it for life, whether they want to pursue it consistently socially, or consistently competitively,” Kyle Treu said.

Jackson and the Treus are professional dancers who put together a Latin Nationals Prep Camp to help students and competitors practice and hone skills for a competition in March 2018. The team flew in Pasha Stepanchuk and Gabrielle (Gabby) Sabler, Latin dance world champions, for this camp to help teach the students.

“In this particular group of people, [the students] were beginners that were adults, beginners that were kids, and then there were our competitive adults who were 19-25 that are going to be competing against [the instructors],” Jackson said.

Screenshot 2019-04-03 15.41.03

Students practicing at the Latin Nationals Prep Camp.

“I want this to be an inclusive sport,” she added. Dance itself is inclusive, but she longs to see growth in the arts in this way.

Latin and ballroom dancing in Utah is very popular and common. Salt Lake City supports the arts well and has donated money for years in support of the growth of arts and culture. 

“It’s a sport, but it’s art as well,” Jackson said. “The arts [in Utah] are really important.” She said kids in Utah are usually either in sports or in an art, and most parents want their kids to be well versed in both.

Madelaine Treu said, “I think overall, dance anywhere is very accepting. So there can be a lot of diversity and age and race and status because dance is so much about self-expression, and the beauty and happiness that dance brings to life. So when you find that community or that coach that gives that to you and you really click with them, then so much happiness and acceptance and family really revolves around that.”

Screenshot 2019-04-03 15.37.39

Gabrielle (Gabby) Sabler finishing a demonstration with Pasha Stepanchuk, behind her, for students at the Latin Nationals Prep Camp.

Jackson said she loves the art because she values being around people who inspire her. “I want to bring more of that to the community here, but I also really just love being part of it.”

Professional Latin dancer and instructor Julio Morales said when he goes out to social dance he sees a relaxed, community environment. “I like to go out there and have fun, whether it’s salsa or bachata,” Morales said. “It’s whatever you like, just to go out there and enjoy yourself and have a good time.”

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The cultural significance of soccer in the Latinx community

Story and photo gallery by TYSON ALDRIDGE

Soccer, or futbol as it is called in Latin America, is the most popular sport in the Latinx community. Children from the time they are born are given a soccer ball to play with, or share a couch with a loved one to watch a game. That is why the love of soccer is so deep, it is firmly implanted in their day-to-day family lives.

Carlos Deschapelles of Univision Communications INC. explained in a 2016 article that Latinx communities have a love for soccer. “Look at the numbers: a whopping 84% of Hispanics follow the sport, compared to 47% of non-hispanics.” Deschapelles also said that 76 percent of kids and teens who watched the Copa America Centenario on Univision did so with an adult.

Grant Barnes, sports editor for the Tulane Hullabaloo, said in his 2018 article, “In 2017, Latinx people accounted for 68 percent of soccer viewership in the U.S. alone. Univision has estimated that approximately 84 percent of Latinx people follow the sport, and that they watch approximately three times as much soccer as non-Latinxs.”

It is no surprise that Latinx people in the U.S. are responsible for most of the soccer viewership in the U.S. because as Deschapelles said, “Based on U.S. census data, approximately 75% of U.S. Hispanics will find their country of origin represented by one of the teams at the Gold Cup in the Summer.” This gives the Latinx community here in the U.S. a sense of pride and excitement when their team is represented at the Gold Cup.

The U.S. does a great job of trying to keep the Latinx culture involved by hosting foreign tournaments in the U.S. Deschapelles explained, “By keeping Hispanics connected to their culture and their home country through tournaments that take place in the U.S. — like the 2016 Copa America Centenario and 2017 Gold Cup — soccer allows them to acknowledge and thrive in their duality.”

Dominic Militello is the head coach of the Cottonwood High School soccer team. Just watching the practice, it is easy to tell that these players absolutely have a burning passion for the game. Senior defender Josue Calderon said, “We were born with it, we basically grew up with our parents playing it and showing us the ways and their love for it.”

The great thing about this connection to the sport that the Latinx community has is that it brings them closer together as family and as friends. Whether it is through their local school team or club, or even recreational leagues that they play in on the weekends, they love the sense of family and community the sport brings them.

Christian Alfero, a sophomore midfielder, said that soccer has been a huge component for him and his family his whole life. He said, “I grew up watching the game and seeing the professionals on TV, and once the games were over my family would go outside and have 5 vs. 5 games.”

Brandon Morales, a sophomore defender, said, “I think it’s more like a family. It makes you act like you are actually a part of a family. You can relate to each other better because we are all Hispanic, and having that similarity with our culture makes us like each other more.”

Each of the players stressed family as the main component of their love for soccer. Sophomore forward Kody Flores said, “Ever since I was little my first toy was a ball. When you’re playing soccer it makes you feel at home.”

The Cottonwood High players’ faces lit up when talking about the competitiveness that soccer brings them within their community. Senior defender Calderon said, “We have a lot of Mexican league teams that we have friends and family playing on, and you look forward to playing against your friends.”

Soccer also brings this community a sense of pride. Morales, the sophomore defender,  said, “Mexico has always been good at soccer. It is one of the things that they are really good at and have a ton of talent when it comes to soccer. Just showing it off and displaying it feels good.”

The Cottonwood High School soccer team puts a tremendous effort toward getting better daily. They practice from 3 in the afternoon until 4:30 Monday through Friday, with games mixed in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The team has Latinx representation, and as result, spectators can see the passion go from them to the rest of the team. Coach Militello pushes his team to succeed. And that is shown through constant instruction and coaching to ensure each player is doing their best. Sophomore defender Alejandro Barahona, said, “Being on this team and playing soccer makes us more like a family, and brings us closer together as a team.”

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You are not crazy: Mental health stigma among Latinx community

Story and photos by SAYAKA KOCHI

One of the frequently discussed topics is that Latinx people are less likely to seek mental health treatment by themselves. Even when they are suffering from severe mental disorders, asking someone for help isn’t easy. There are several reasons why they cannot signal SOS.

“I didn’t want to admit that I was not OK,” Diana Aguilera said. Aguilera was born in Mexico and moved to Utah at age 10. She is a Peer Programs coordinator at the Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS) located at 3471 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City. LBHS is a nonprofit organization for unserved Latinx and Hispanic Utah citizens with mental illnesses, co-founded by Jacqueline Gomez-Arias and other contributors.

Before Aguilera became involved in LBHS, she had been suffering from depression, triggered by a harsh breakup. Because of her mental breakdown, she said she gave up school, her desire to be a social worker, and full-time work.

“I went to bed every day and like ‘please, don’t wake up anymore.’ I asked my body to give up because I couldn’t literally go on anymore,” Aguilera said. “I didn’t like to talk about it. I tried to hide it. Because I didn’t want my family to feel guilty.”

While she was ignoring her mental breakdown, she started volunteering at LBHS to help others in 2015. There, she said she met people with depression and those who have overcome their mental illnesses. Through being with them, she said she could finally acknowledge that she had to seek help.

“I met one of the founding members, Jacqueline [Gomez-Arias]. She was so open about her mental health issues. Through the conversation with her, she was like ‘you need help. You have depression. You have to seek help,’” Aguilera said. “Hearing from her, it was reassuring that it’s OK, I’ll be fine.”

With the help of Gomez-Arias and Aguilera’s sister, she was able to find a therapist and start fighting against her depression. At this point, health insurance is one of the main reasons that Latinx people cannot seek treatment. According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one-third of Latinx immigrants are uninsured.

“I was really lucky and privileged that I had health insurance. Not everyone has health insurance. Not everyone can afford a therapist,” Aguilera said.

After several years of taking multiple medications and attending therapy, she said her mental health slowly but steadily recovered.

“Right now, I’m doing very well,” Aguilera said. “I don’t think that is a magic thing. It’s just a huge combination of everything.”

Aguilera also explained the importance of belonging in the community. “I’ve gone through therapy but that wasn’t super enough. For my recovery, I needed my community. Latino Behavioral has been my community. That was the most important thing for me.”

Like Aguilera, Carla Astorga had also suffered from mental breakdown for a few decades. Astorga was born and raised in Lima, Peru, which was a “corrupted” place for her to live. Through a lot of traumatic events from her childhood, Astorga said that her mind was broken. To escape from such a harsh environment, she said she decided to move to Utah in 2005.

“I didn’t recognize my symptoms at first. I felt sadness for whole days. So I didn’t know that it became a depression,” Astorga said.

Ten years had passed since she escaped from her country, but she said her symptoms reached such a level that she couldn’t stand them anymore.

“Anxiety, depression, panic attack, paranoid, fear — everything was starting to growing up and growing up,” Astorga said. “I started to see things that were not there. One day, I was driving to send my kids to school. After that, I went to the police station, because I smelled a bomb in my car. Police checked my car, but there was no bomb.”

At this moment, Astorga said she realized for the first time that she had a mental illness. She then decided to take treatment. As a first step, she came to visit LBHS to pull herself out of the darkness. She said she also took psychiatric medication, therapy, and some training provided by NAMI, which is the nation’s largest mental health organization. Over a couple of years going through hard times, she could finally overcome her mental disorder.

“The most successful part of my recovery was to be able to find one place with my own culture and language that I could feel like I was at home,” Astorga said.

Ever since her symptoms improved, she has been helping people at LBHS as a peer supporter and at NAMI as a Wasatch/Summit affiliate leader.

“I didn’t see enough sources with my own language in my area. Latino people need more sources for mental health,” Astorga said. “When I was getting recovered, I started to be aware that I had confidence and trusted myself. So I started thinking that I wanted to help other people.”

Astorga said a lack of knowledge is the main issue for Latinx people when they develop mental illnesses.

“In my culture, if you go to a psychologist or a doctor to take medicines, you are crazy,” Astorga said.

As Astorga pointed out, finding a peer mentor who has the same cultural background is really hard for underrepresented minorities.

Laiyan Bawadeen, a counseling intern for international students at the University of Utah, addressed this cultural difference issue from a counselor’s perspective.

“To address cultural differences in general, it is important that a counselor uses a multicultural viewpoint where they approach counseling through the context of the student’s world and culture while their own values or bias is not more important than that of the student,” Bawadeen said in an email interview.

Bawadeen is half Taiwanese and half Sri Lankan, and she is pursuing her master’s degree in clinical and mental health counseling at the U. As a member of the minority group, Bawadeen also suggested the importance of correct knowledge about mental treatment.

“I think demystifying what mental health [is], understanding what a counseling session looks like and what to expect can help demystify the counseling process, remove the stigma around mental health and make it easier for individuals to seek help,” Bawadeen said.

Seeking help is not easy for Latinx and other minority people. This might be because of the language barrier, not having health insurance, stigma, or caring so much about families or those who are closest to them. However, at some point, they need help.

Astorga said, “Latino[x] people are very strong. They were fighters or warriors. So they say they can do this alone, but they can’t.”

 

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Enhancing Utah’s mental health awareness among Latino(x) community

Story and photos by BRIANNA WINN

According to MentalHealth.gov, mental health is our emotional, psychological and social well-being. From childhood to adolescence, mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It affects every single human being.

Some factors that contribute to mental health are biological factors, life experiences and whether there is family history of mental health problems.

When people have positive mental health, they are able to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and be a contributing member to society or their community, according to MentalHealth.gov.

The Latino Behavioral Health Services program is a nonprofit organization located at 3471 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City. This program is working to minimize the disparities Latinos are facing with regards to mental health in Utah.

According to the website, LBHS is a peer-run organization. It is used to enhance mental health awareness and the well-being of people with mental illness, their caregivers and loved ones through support, education, empowerment and facilitation of resources and services.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says common mental health disorders among Latinos are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.

Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment, according to NAMI. It cites many reasons for this, including lack of information and a misunderstanding about mental health, privacy concerns, language barriers, lack of health insurance, misdiagnosis, legal status, natural medicine and home remedies, and faith and spirituality

According to the Census Bureau, one of Utah’s most underserved populations is the Latino population. Between 2007 to 2011, 22.5 percent of Hispanics living in Utah were below the poverty line compared to the overall population.

Margarita Geraldo, a parent at LBHS teaching families about mental illness, said, “Depression is a mental illness. This illuminated my relationship with my daughter and taught me how to treat me daughter.” Geraldo’s daughter suffers from depression.

Unfortunately, Latinos face disparities that make it difficult for them to receive quality treatment.

Poverty and wage gaps are also contributing factors to mental health problems.

The Utah Department of Health, and Center for Multicultural Health report found that major depression in Hispanics is almost twice that of all Utahns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latino youths attempt suicide at rates that are 8.2 percent higher than their white non-Hispanic peers.

Leticia Frias, cofounder of LBHS, said, “I have a child, a son, who is 22 years old. He is one of the things that motivated me the most to be here.”

She added, “The first thing I learned is how to be a better leader, how to have sympathy and understanding for people in the community.”

LBHS was created to change these statistics mentioned above, and the lives of the Latinos they represent.

While raising awareness about mental illness, staff strive to increase the number of Latinos in Utah who are maintaining recovery from mental illness.

LBHS also strives to empower Latinos in recovery to give back to their community and impact the mental health system in Utah to be more culturally and linguistically responsive.

Teresa Molina, a co-ounder of LBHS, has been in peer recovery since 1989. She became a clinician and researcher as part of her recovery process. She volunteers as an instructor at LBHS.

“When people have the opportunity to contribute, to be looked at as the solution rather than the problem, people will flourish and find solutions,” Molina said.

LBHS began in 2011 by community residents and was later founded in 2013 and given nonprofit status shortly after. It has grown with the support of their strong partners, one of the being the University of Utah. They currently serve over 600 Latinos annually, according to their website.

“Latino behavioral health services is an effort from the community to build its own structure and organization base so people can take turns, creating a body that exists and survives all the waves that people have in their lives,” Molina said.

The staff and all people involved in the program including teachers, therapists, and administrators, have been affected by both mental illness and minority status.

“The solutions are within the people. It’s almost like throwing a rock in the lake, you can’t stop the ripples,” Molina said.

LBHS states on the website, “We provide them with training, new skills, and opportunities to teach or engage in outreach. In this way our programs are sustainable and build capacity into families and communities. Through this process, we seek to increase knowledge about mental illness in the community, reduce stigma, and empower people to create change.”

By partnering with existing agencies, this organization hopes to bring diagnosis, treatment, information, and intervention for substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness to everyone in the community.

If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health issues, you can find contact information by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

 

 

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Hispanic belief system that the family is the heart and focus of life

Story and photo by EMMA JOHNSON

The family is the heart of the Hispanic culture. Children taking care of their parents as their parents took care of them in their childhood is a “circle of life” concept the Latinix communities value. Birth and death are interesting life experiences. Latinx people are viewed as family-centered with divine importance placed on caring for the young and elderly. Learning from family members’ wisdom that will benefit future generations is an honorable life adventure Hispanic families respect.

A 2014 poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Hispanics have a higher likelihood of caring for their elderly relatives and having it be a positive experience. The poll concluded that Hispanic families have reported a greater percentage of their caregiving being less financially stressful.

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, feels the opportunity to take care of his elders enhances his family centered beliefs. “In the Hispanic culture, they will take care of their parents because their parents took care of them.” For him and his family, the statement is as simple as it sounds. Guzman says assisted-living homes are a rarity in his home county of Guatemala. The family is the center. Whatever sacrifices need to be made to ensure fulfillment of the circle of life will be made.

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The Livas family represents the circle of life. Standing from left: Norma, Manny, and Ed. Sam is seated

Latinx communities are loyal to their heritage.  They are proud of who they are and willing to share their rich culture with others. Sam Livas is a Mexican-American who prides himself on his family-oriented lifestyle. Livas’ mother grew up in Cananera Sonora, Mexico, and his father in Tucson, Arizona. His mother migrated to the United States to marry his father. Livas was born in California but said he would not trade his Hispanic upbringing up for the world.

Growing up, Livas said he watched as his mother cared for her elderly parents. “Seeing my mother and her siblings take care of their mother is where I feel or saw the need to take care of my own parents.” The firsthand experience helped him to realize the cultural importance and value of caring for those he loved.

According to a study conducted by the University Of Austin, Texas, despite high levels of need, Hispanics shun nursing homes and remain where they are even with compromised health conditions. It isn’t uncommon for children caretakers to fail meeting the needs of their elderly relatives. Most family members aren’t medical professionals. The looming pressure of where family members with health complications will live daunts and alters cultural customs.

Livas said in an email interview that his Mexican-American values have given him a clearer understanding of why many Americans put their parents into nursing centers. “I don’t fault those that CAN provide better care for their loved ones.” He said he feels assisted and rehabilitation homes should not be a substitute for family, but used as a resource that benefits all. “Don’t forget to call and visit,” Livas added, there is no better emotional love than a family can provide.

Latinx communities rely on family units as human bodies rely on their heart. Family belonging and involvement is the foundation of their lives. Guzman, with the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “If you have to work three jobs with the intention to provide for your children, you do.”