In 2004, the LMHP conducted a community needs assessment, funded in part by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, to gain a better understanding of the mental health service needs of the Latino population in Worcester. The needs assessment study comprised 166 face-to-face interviews of Latino community members (from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, mainland United States and various countries in Central and South America) as well as key informant interviews representing health care leaders from the Worcester community. The findings in this study indicated that a considerable number of participants (86%), and/or family members, had experienced a mental health related problem at some point in their lives. However, only 56% had sought assistance for their mental health issues. In addition, the key informant interviews identified a number of specific training needs for community members aimed at reducing stigma, increasing understanding of mental health/illness related issues and learning how to navigate the mental health system in order to increase utilization of services.
In 2006, the LMHP conducted a preliminary workforce study, sponsored by the MA AHEC Network of the University of MA Medical School, to assess the Latino community's perceptions of the mental health field and to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by local agencies in recruiting and retaining Latino professionals in order to offer recommendations that can be implemented locally. A total of 21 Latino community members were interviewed for this study. In response to a question regarding strategies to assist Latino community members to pursue careers in mental health, 71% of participants commented that providing education about mental health related issues and career opportunities in the field would be useful. Several went on to comment that "we should do more outreach and education.and break the stigma." 24% of participants suggested that offering programs like Hablemos en Familia to provide community education about mental illnesses and treatments helps to decrease stigma and encourage people to consider careers in mental health professions.
The data collected in the Latino Mental Health Needs Assessment Report (2005), the preliminary workforce development study cited above and the Hablemos en Familia program's success in exceeding its outreach and mental health education goals highlight the need for increased education in the Latino community regarding mental illness, treatment approaches and resources. Through the LMHP's collaborative efforts with Christian Community Church (Iglesia Cristiana de la Comunidad) two additional faith-based organizations have participated in the program and are working to establish a core group of community members who will utilize the information learned to provide informal support and navigation strategies to peers in their neighborhood and faith communities. Participants in the Hablemos en Familia program have consistently urged the LMHP to expand the program to reach a greater number of community members and they have strongly recommended the program to their peers in the community. There are no other mental health educational programs available to the Latino community in Worcester.
The Latino Mental Health Project's (of the Central Massachusetts Area Health Education Center, Inc.) work has been highlighted in multiple venues including the 2005 Annual Convention of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the 2006 U.S. Office of Minority Health's National Leadership Summit on Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health, and in the professional journal Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research (Cardemil et al., 2007). It will also be highlighted in the 2009 U.S. Office of Minority Health's National Leadership Summit on Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health.