Over 5,000 people in Santa Barbara County were questioned about the impact COVID-19 had on their lives.
According to preliminary results, 61% of the participants said their mental health worsened while 35% said they saw no impact.
“They’re feeling more tired, loss of energy, almost a quarter of the participants reported that they are having trouble sleeping,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, Chief of Strategy and Community Development and Public Information Officer for the Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness.
The results are very different if broken down by language spoken.
The Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness reports that 87% of Spanish-speaking participants said they felt no impact on their mental health whereas, among English-speakers, the result was 65%.
“We know about job loss, income loss, we know about the stress that goes with that,” said Grimmesey about the findings.
Latinos were the ethnic group hardest hit by COVID-19. In Santa Barbara County, 54% of the total number of cases and 49% of the total COVID-19 deaths were among this community.
“Our Latino community is very closed off, mental health is taboo,” explained Gabriela Chavez, Transitions-Mental Health Association’s program supervisor in Santa Maria.
Seeking help is easier said than done.
“A little over 20% of our English-speaking participants said that they would not know where to get help,” pointed out Grimmesey. “We had about 45% of our Spanish-speaking participants say that they would not know where to go to get help.”
The study also found that for Spanish-speakers, the biggest issues of concern during the pandemic have been anxiety, family, finances, and fear of getting sick.
“Taking time off from work and seeking mental health services or medical services wasn’t a possibility,” added Chavez. “If they don’t work, they don’t eat.”
A vast majority of Hispanics were essential workers.
“It didn’t stop us from working,” said a farmworker, who asked not to be named. “Even here at work, we worked more than before, so to me, it didn’t affect me that much.”
It is a topic that’s often hard to address, especially among Hispanic men.
“It’s something we don’t talk about, but it is something that we should,” said the same farmworker.
Chavez added that there is also a sense of pride that comes with being the main breadwinner in a family.
“When a family member is unable to work due to mental health or physical health it is a form of shame for their family,” said Chavez.
Local organizations are advocating to break those barriers.
“Some of the things we can do is extend hours and provide services, go to where they are at,” suggested Chavez.
The county is using both quantitative and qualitative data to try to better serve the community.
“We want easy and accessible ways to be connected in their natural environments with trusted people, so whether it be at the school, whether it be through churches,” said Grimmesey.
The County of Santa Barbara is accepting proposals for specific mental health services that could be offered to the community. Those interested have until March 7, 2022, to submit an idea.
Participants of this project were surveyed online, through focus groups and with the help of field workers. Responses from members of the Mixteco community, which is a Mexican Indigenous community, were also included in the survey.
Residents in Santa Barbara County who need mental health services can call the behavioral wellness 24/7 access line at 888-868-1649.