Asking For Help Is A Universal Language

By Shawna Ryan, T-Mobile StoriesOctober 06, 2023

The 988 Mental Health Lifeline has provided T-Mobile customers free access to vital health resources by simply making a phone call or text. Mental health advocates say the most recent Spanish language texting option is a necessary step in combatting the stigma around seeking help in Hispanic communities.

Hear a mental health expert discuss why he thinks 988's latest Spanish texting option is an important step in combatting cultural stigmas around seeking help.

"In the Hispanic community, there's a phrase and a word that comes to mind," says Jorge Gama, LPC-S, a licensed professional counselor supervisor in Texas. "First is una familia or one family. We take pride in the approach as a family to deal with the problems and the issues within the family and not outside of it. The other one is El loquero, which means the crazy doctor. And so when clients come see me, they'll tell me 'I'm not crazy.' And I said, 'no, no, I know that you're not crazy. We're here because we're going to work towards mental health. We're going to work as a team to get to better outcomes.'"

Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Jorge came to the United States with his family and studied to become a mental health expert focusing on helping clients struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and trauma. With more than 15 years of experience in his field and currently the clinical director at the Mending Clinic, he says he is personally aware of the stigma surrounding mental health resources that can pervade Hispanic communities. 

“I think that this belief system has just penetrated the Hispanic community or the Latino community, and there’s a sense of fear around mental health,” says Jorge. “But I have luckily, over the past years, seen more clients that are willing and open to be engaged in counseling and to get the services that they need, and not just the younger crowds, but also clients that are in their forties, fifties and sixties.”

It’s why he says he is so excited to hear about more inclusive resources being offered, including the 988 mental health lifeline’s most recent expansion to include Spanish language texting options. Since November 2020, T-Mobile customers have been able dial 988 to call for free access to mental health services from professionally trained counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, now the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Then in 2022 the option to text for that critical support was added. According to the Lifeline, those who connect with a counselor in a time of need were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful.

"I think the 988 hotline is an amazing service to provide," says Jorge. "I worked for the county before I started working in private practice and they had a hotline that people in crisis could call. It was amazing how in need that hotline was and how many lives I believe that hotline saved. I believe that the 988 hotline does the same and being able to reach out via text is important."

Those close to people who have experienced mental health emergencies say it’s a service that needs to become part of the zeitgeist in order to save lives.

“I’m a survivor of suicide loss and there are more of us out there than people realize, as suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the U.S. currently, with an average 132 suicides per day,” says April Ryan, a T-Mobile Communication Manager and Latina. “When you dial 988 you’re connected directly to 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, a network of approximately 180 local- and state-funded crisis centers staffed 24/7 by professionally trained counselors to help if you’re in crisis. I want 988 to be as familiar as 911.”

And removing any potential barriers to accessing help is the goal given the statistics being reported. Overall, the suicide rate for Hispanics increased by 6.8% from 2018 to 2021, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and only 36.1% of Latinos ages 18 or older with a mental illness received services in 2021, compared to the U.S. average of 47.2%. It’s the kind of news that has caused legislators and other government advocates to push for more resources geared towards Spanish speaking communities. 

"The mental health crisis has hit the Latino community with tremendous force because of unique factors that we uniquely face," said Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. "Language barrier, lack of insurance, shortage of culturally competent mental health providers, immigration status, stigmas and the additional anxiety of facing discrimination while navigating between different cultures to feel like we belong. Let's be clear, there is strength in seeking help and the 988 mental health lifeline answers that call thanks to T-Mobile's support. I especially encourage our Latinx youth to call 988 - or text which makes this critical service even more available - when in crisis because more than half of 18-to-25-year-olds with serious mental illness might not get treatment and might not know where to look for help and with one in three Latinos being under 18 years of age, there is a lot more to do. Let's continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by ensuring our community gets the support we need to be healthier, happier and productive through mental wellness year-round."

About 13% of the U.S. population speaks Spanish as their primary tongue, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"I hope that 988 is able to break down those barriers and that concern that they're going to be looked at as weak or feel judged for getting help," says Jorge. "When we are feeling depressed, anxious or we're struggling in life, one of the best medicines that we can have is connection with people. There's a need for this and bridging that gap and starting the process earlier is key to try to prevent a crisis. The 988 hotline will be able to do that in real time as opposed to having to wait to see a therapist in person."

Click here to read more about April Ryan and her personal story of spreading awareness about 988.