By Kira Cordova

Photo: Alex Pedersen

Note: The word Hispanic refers to ethnicity and is separate from race. The US Census Bureau did not include it on the census until 1976. The term is controversial, with many pointing out that it generalizes many diverse communities and has etymological ties to Spanish colonialism.

While other descriptors can be more accurate, because the data we have utilizes census information, and therefore the word Hispanic, it’s included in this article and the subsequent about Spanish and Cora language behavioral and mental health resources in the valley.  

We’re in a frightening state of mental health crisis in the Gunnison Valley. Despite the many organizations and resources dedicated to combating this situation, mental health providers still face challenges meeting the needs of Gunnison residents.  

These systemic problems compound for LGBTQIA+ and linguistically isolated residents, residents belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, and those with precarious economic conditions and immigration status (linguistically isolated is a term used by the US Census Bureau to describe limited English-speaking individuals and households).  

Before factoring in other barriers, and speaking solely in terms of race and ethnicity, the situation in Gunnison is especially alarming given that the rates of mental illness and suicide are already frighteningly high for Gunnison residents in the non-Hispanic White demographic majority, who are the most likely to be able to access professional help (87.8% of the Gunnison Valley is non-Hispanic White, according to census data from 2020).  

If non-Hispanic White members of the Gunnison community are struggling, and they are the most likely group to receive mental and behavioral health support, what does that mean for Hispanic and non-White Gunnison community members?  

For many Hispanic members of the Gunnison community (which includes the Hispanic White, Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native, and Hispanic Black census categories), several of the factors mentioned above can combine to make accessing mental health resources especially difficult.  

According to the 2020 Colorado Statewide Behavioral Health Needs Assessment, after Multiracial Coloradans, Hispanic Coloradans are the second most likely group to report frequent poor mental health (meaning they’re likely to report 14+ days of poor mental health out of the last 30).  

Despite this, they’re the second least likely to be told that they suffer from a form of depression by a mental health professional. They’re also less likely to receive treatment. According to community surveys conducted for the assessment, Hispanic respondents were the least likely to report accessing “the behavioral health services and supports they need” due to stigma, accessibility of resources, and availability of bilingual and bicultural providers.  

Hispanic and Black Coloradans are likely to receive care in different settings, in which care tends to be reactionary and not preventative. According to the needs assessment, “when individuals of color do receive care, they are more likely to receive care through public human service settings such as child welfare, juvenile justice, and corrections,” which “highlights that individuals of color may not be accessing the early intervention and outpatient services that could potentially prevent engagement in other systems such as criminal justice.”  

Per the Colorado Health Institute, “it is becoming more difficult to get a mental health appointment” for all population groups in the state, and that is before factoring in extenuating barriers to access, like linguistic isolation and stigma.  

Stigma still prevents many from receiving needed mental health care. Colorado Health Institute reports that nearly one of 10 Coloradans say there was a time they didn’t receive needed mental health care. Of those, more than one of four said it was because they were worried what would happen if others found out. 

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and US Census data, Gunnison County’s population is 7.4% Hispanic White, 2.1% Hispanic American Indian or Alaskan Native and 0.2% Hispanic Black, and 10.2% of Gunnison households are linguistically isolated.  

In the Gunnison valley, linguistically isolated households are most likely to speak Spanish or Cora (the language of the Cora Indians, indigenous people tracing to the mountainous state of Nayarit in Mexico). The current Cora population in Gunnison is estimated to be around 160, or around 40% of Gunnison’s Latino immigrant population (the population originally from Latin America).  

These linguistically isolated households are likely to identify as Hispanic, meaning that the scary statistics about barriers to accessing mental and behavioral health support for Hispanic Coloradans ring alarmingly true, with the language barrier directly and substantially worsening the situation.  

Stay tuned for more coverage about mental health and the Gunnison County.