Minority counselors provide mental health care for their communities

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LAFAYETTE, La. — A new study reveals that Hispanics in Louisiana are the largest group in the United States with unmet mental health needs.

Other minorities face similar issues, and some local experts are saying it all comes down to representation.

“Any time you have a lack of representation it’s going to [equal] a lack of trust,” said Jawaskie Deal, a licensed professional counselor.

He says people seeking mental help will often feel better when the person helping them navigate their issues either looks or sounds like them.

Deal says he’s proud to be one of the only Black male counselors in Iberia Parish.

His practice, Believe, has been open for about a month, and he says the majority of his clients are Black.

“The quote or saying ‘What goes on in this house, stays in this house.' We also have a prideful identity culture, so we take pride in being resilient,” he said.

Similarly, Chicano counselor Maria “Mica” Istre says many immigrants tend to function at a basic level to make ends meet and don’t always prioritize their mental health.

“They operate in a survival mode,” she said. “When you’re in survival mode, it’s normalized to feel anxious all the time, and so anxiety is very common.”

A study shows 17.4% of Hispanics in Louisiana report having unmet mental health needs, which is the highest in the nation.

Another stigma – not wanting to be seen as “loco” or crazy.

“I believe a lot of it is privacy, and not wanted to be deemed as crazy. I often hear people keeping things to themselves for fear of not being deemed as, so to speak, loco, like crazy.”

Both counselors hope to bridge the gap between people of color needing mental health help in Acadiana and getting those resources.

Istre is expanding her practice from personal to group practice and wants to focus on multi-ethnic counseling, making sure she can reach minorities.

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