The Elkhart Truth

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) _ A local study funded by the National Institute for Mental Health may increase the quality of life for Latino youth living in Elkhart County.

Dr. Irene P.K. Park, assistant research professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine South Bend and the leader of the study, said she wants to look at ways that Latino children and their families may experience discrimination, especially when it comes to mental health care.

“One of the key stressors when it comes to adapting to a new country is that of discrimination,” Park told The Elkhart Truth ( ). “When a Latino individual is trying to seek (mental health) services, there may be different barriers. The care provider may not know about their culture of origin, and there may be a language barrier or different cultural values.”

Park added, “We hope that clinicians and practitioners can use the data (from the study) to better treat Latino youth.”

Park and her team, which includes community consultant Gilberto Perez of Goshen-based Bienvenido Community Solutions, hope to study 270 families in Elkhart and St. Joseph counties over a two-year period. They hope to access these families through contacts at local school corporations, churches and community groups. Goshen Community Schools agreed to help Park at its regularly scheduled board meeting Monday, Oct. 14, and Perez said he hopes to meet with Concord and Elkhart schools soon.

“We felt that the first entry point (to find families) should be the schools, because that’s where kids are located,” Perez said Wednesday.

Goshen Schools will provide addresses of Latino students, and Park’s team will send letters asking if the families want to participate in the study.

Park noted at Goshen’s school board meeting on Monday that study participants will be compensated with up to $190 per family. Each child and parent will be screened for depression and anxiety and directed to local services if needed. The focus of the study is on the children, specifically youth ages of 12 to 17.

So why is this study focused on Elkhart and St. Joseph counties?

Park said she chose these northern Indiana counties because a high percentage of the population is Latino, according to U.S. census data.

“St. Joseph County has a more settled Latino population that’s been here for maybe … three generations,” Park said. “Elkhart County, however, what we saw there in terms of demographics is that the Latino population is one of the new populations. The Latino population in Elkhart has just exploded over the past couple of decades.”

Park added, “For me as a researcher, that contrast was very interesting. Are there differences between the two groups?”

Families involved in the study will go through three interviews, each six months apart. Perez said the first interview will happen at the end of November or the beginning of December. By summer 2014, the team hopes to complete the interviews. Results of the study may be available by September 2015, according to information prepared by Park.

Park’s ultimate goal, she said, is to give a voice to the Latino community, and to change the quality of mental health services they receive.

“I think that this study is groundbreaking, because we are trying to look at this relatively new immigrant population in the area, and examine the sources of risk and resilience that can play a role in their mental health,” Park said.

Assisting in the study are a six-member staff, consultant Waldo Mikels-Carrasco of the University of Notre Dame, and consultant Jennifer Burke Lefever, associate director of the University of Notre Dame Center for Children and Families. Also assisting are senior consultants from Harvard University, Dr. Margarita Alegria and Dr. David Williams, both experts on Latino mental health.


Information from: The Elkhart Truth,