NEWS | October 17, 2012

"Sharing Knowledge, Improving Lives" conference to address Latino mental-health issues


Community and mental-health leaders from across Northern California will converge on UC Davis for a daylong conference to explore effective and culturally and linguistically appropriate solutions to mental illness among the nearly 40 percent of the state's population that identifies as Latino.

Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola

"Sharing Knowledge, Improving Lives" will be held at the UC Davis Conference Center on Thursday, Oct. 18, in Davis, Calif., to address Latino mental-health issues and recommendations from a landmark study prepared under the auspices of the California Department of Mental Health, titled Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Care Disparities.
"Untreated mental-health needs are a very common problem, creating significant individual and family burdens and reducing quality of life and productivity," said lead author Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, who is director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and director of the community engagement program at the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center.

"We conducted this study to help guide policy and practice at the local and state levels to improve the mental health of Latinos and other underserved populations. Participants also requested that mental-health agencies demonstrate their commitment to serving Latino communities by developing programs that prove to be effective in producing positive outcomes -- from increasing access to improving retention rates -- and that guide policy and service development at the local and state levels," Aguilar-Gaxiola said.

Depression, substance and alcohol abuse and anxiety disorders are among the conditions that disproportionately affect what is by far the largest and the fastest growing ethnic minority in California. These maladies are rooted in health disparities -- such as poverty, poor housing, stigma and discrimination -- and are exacerbated by a statewide deficit of bilingual and bicultural community-based mental-health resources.

The conference will examine recommendations and strategies identified in the study, compiled by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, and will include a session on promising practices that will highlight the successes of community-based providers such as La Familia Counseling Center Inc. of Sacramento, the San Francisco-based Family Acceptance Project and the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Instituto.

"Through this report, we have gathered and engaged community voices that have previously not been heard," said Aguilar-Gaxiola. "We are grateful to the individuals and communities that shared their time and wisdom with us. As we communicate the results of our study, our goal is to inform and help institute policies that improve access to quality mental-health care, thus improving the quality of life for Latinos and other underserved populations who struggle with untreated mental illness."

Rachel Rios, executive director of La Familia, said one promising practice can be found in the center's Supporting Community Connections program, which meets clients "where they are" in their ability to access mental-health services.

 "This does not just mean location," Rios said. "This is critical, because in traditional models we expect people to acknowledge their needs and request assistance. But that is not the way all communities handle stress, depression or other behavioral-health issues.

"For many in the Latino community," Rios continued, "the stigma of acknowledging depression or suicidal ideation is so great that they do not seek assistance."

Rios said that the program works by using non-traditional approaches to outreach such as reaching out to family and community members to liaison with people in need and let them know that help is available.

Conference participants also will examine methods of identifying resources for funding and sustaining community-based mental-health providers as well as tools for evidence-based program evaluation.

Speakers at the conference will include:

  • Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director, UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and lead of the Latino Strategic Planning Workgroup
  • Ronald Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health
  • Christine Tien, senior program officer for the California Endowment
  • Sandy Berry, leader of the Statewide Prevention and Early Intervention Evaluation of the RAND Corporation
  • Marina Augusto, acting director of the California Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity

A second, Southern California session of Sharing Knowledge, Improving Lives will be held on Thursday, Nov. 8, in San Gabriel, Calif. Online registration for both conference sessions is available by clicking here. There is no registration fee, but space is limited. Additional information about the Northern California session is available by contacting Lina Mendez at; 916-703-9227.

Sharing Knowledge, Improving Lives is presented by the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and by the California Reducing Disparities Project: Latino Focus and the Latino Mental Health Concilio. It is funded by the Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity.

The mental-health-care disparities report was prepared for and funded by the California Department of Mental Health and conducted in collaboration with the Latino Mental Health Concilio, a Latino stakeholder group representing a broad range of constituencies, including mental-health consumer advocates, county ethnic service managers, mental health-care providers, "promotoras/promotores," educators and members of the migrant worker, LGBTQ and juvenile justice communities.

The project was funded by the Mental Health Services Act, also known as Proposition 63, which was approved by California voters in November 2004 to address un-served and underserved populations and provide culturally and linguistically competent services to prevent and treat mental illness. The strategies identified in the UC Davis report will inform state policies for improving the delivery of mental health care in the state.

The UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, in alliance with the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, provides leadership and support within and beyond UC Davis Health System to promote the health and well-being of ethnically diverse populations. The center focuses on raising awareness of the unique cultural and linguistic attributes of minority populations, developing culturally and linguistically sensitive communications for health-care professionals, and working with policymakers, administrators, practitioners, consumers and families to reduce health-care disparities and improve quality of care. Building on UC Davis' long history of outreach to the most vulnerable, underserved populations in the Sacramento region, the center raises awareness, conducts critical research and assists those communities whose needs have never been addressed or met by the traditional health-care system. The center's ultimate goal is to improve health outcomes for all. For more information, visit