Latinos are experiencing a mental health crisis. This Spanish-language text line seeks to combat it

Woman sitting on couch looking upset
The nonprofit Crisis Text Line is launching the nation’s only Spanish-language text crisis line Friday. Damir Cudic/Getting Images
  • The nonprofit Crisis Text Line is launching the nation’s only Spanish-language text crisis line Friday.
  • The resource is an attempt to address the growing demand for bilingual resources amid the country’s mental health crisis.
  • People in need of help can text HOLA to 741741 or text 442-AYUDAME in Whatsapp.

Spanish-language speakers often face difficulty accessing mental health resources in their language, but that could change with the launch of the only national Spanish-language text crisis line.

Starting Friday, people in need of help can text HOLA to 741741 or text 442-AYUDAME in Whatsapp to be connected with a Spanish-speaking crisis counselor.

While the nonprofit Crisis Text Line has been providing free crisis counseling via text message since 2013, its new 24/7 Spanish-language text crisis line is an attempt to address the growing demand for bilingual resources amid the country’s mental health crisis, according to Natalia Dayan, the organization’s localization director.

“When we set out to create our service, we wanted to make sure it was not only in Spanish, but that it was culturally competent,” Dayan, who spearheaded the launch of the text service, told Insider. “That means going beyond translating from English to Spanish and really looking at the needs of this diverse community, including training our counselors to respect the use of different dialects and to understand the different issues this community, especially immigrants or mixed-status families, might face, like generational trauma.”

The text crisis line removes the added pressures of talking on the phone or face-to-face

Like many crisis hotlines and resources, The Crisis Text Line experienced a surge in users during the pandemic.

About 40% of the English-language text line’s clients in 2020 were people of color, with more than 20% of users identifying as Latino.

Yet the Spanish-language crisis line will reach a different group of the Latino communities, according to Juan Velas-Court, a consultant for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

“In Spanish, we have this expression, ‘eso es una chingera,’ which means, this is nonsense, that will go away,” Velas-Court told Insider. “Latinos use it a lot when it comes to mental illness because there’s so much stigma attached to diagnosis and not many Spanish-language resources to educate people.”

Per a 2015 American Psychological Association survey, only around 6% of therapists of any race or ethnicity provide sessions in Spanish – a percentage that lags behind the US’ growing Latino population.

The text component of the crisis resource also makes services more accessible, said Velas-Court, because people won’t have to worry if someone will recognize their voice or if they start crying.

Man sitting in woods
Depression, anxiety, and relationship issues were among the most common problems Latinos spoke about during a pilot version of the Spanish-language text line. Damir Cudic/Getty Images

“If you’ve never talked about your mental health before – and a lot of Latinos haven’t – talking to someone on the phone can be intimidating,” Velas-Court said. “But with the text format, you can take your time and carefully think through what you want to share.”

Crisis Text Line launched a pilot version of the Spanish-language program earlier this year, which yielded more than 1,000 Spanish-language text conversations.

Depression, anxiety, and relationship issues were among the most common problems Latinos spoke about during those interactions, per Dayan.

“There’s this tradition where we don’t talk about mental health in our homes, so what if I’m a Latino man who lost his job in the pandemic and I’m depressed?,” Velas-Court said. “I’d probably feel like I couldn’t tell anyone in my home because emotionally we don’t feel comfortable talking about these different things.”

The crisis text line is not only for people ‘who are at the end of their rope,’ says Dayan

So what kinds of concerns can people discuss on the crisis text line?

“Anything,” Dayan told Insider. “Latinos often don’t want to take up a lot of space, so they won’t reach out until they’re at the end of their rope, but we’re not just here for you when things feel out of control and you can’t take it anymore.”

“We’re here for you every step of the way and we urge people to reach out to us before they reach that stage,” she added.

If you’re not in crisis, but feel compelled to help others who are, the Crisis Text Line’s Spanish-language resource is seeking bilingual volunteers, per Dayan. After completing an application and training, the volunteers are matched with licensed Spanish-speaking mental health professionals who assist them during shifts.

“There’s so much emphasis put on individual responsibility, but if you’re struggling, it’s not your fault and there’s no shame in reaching out for help,” Dayan said. “If you have diabetes you wouldn’t try and manage your insulin on your own without the help of a doctor. Mental health is health, and it’s just as important as physical health.”