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Some Spanish-speaking mental health providers in rural Iowa seek more support amid increasing workload

A bilingual health care provider in rural Iowa says he needs support to address all the needs in the communities he serves. There are few Spanish-speaking providers in the area.
Ümit Bulut
A bilingual health care provider in rural Iowa says he needs support to address all the needs in the communities he serves. There are few Spanish-speaking providers in the area.

Mental health resources in some rural areas of Iowa can be scarce, and even more limited for those who need the resources in Spanish. And, some Spanish-speaking mental health providers say they feel the pressure.

Carlos Celis is one of the few Spanish-speaking clinicians in Marshall and Tama County. The first-generation Mexican American moved from California to Hawaii and eventually to Iowa where he serves primarily Spanish-speakers. He opened his first mental health center, The Strengthening Center, Aug. 2 in Marshalltown. The city is estimated to be a little more than 30 percent Hispanic or Latino.

In opening the center in central Iowa, Celis and his wife Lani Maassen knew the populations had undergone multiple traumatic events. He listed the 2018 tornado in Marshalltown, the 2020 derecho and the COVID-19 pandemic—which has been reported to have had a disproportionate effect on Black and brown individuals.

“On top of that, you know, there's a lot of deportations here in this area, food insecurities, substance abusers,” Celis listed. “So this propelled my wife and I to start The Strengthening Center, because we recognize the need of mental health services and wanted to help bridge that gap within the Latino community.”

Both Celis and Maassen have experience working with families and children—a very important skill, Celis explained. He works with students in the South Tama County School District and in Marshalltown schools. Many of which, Celis said, come from immigrant families and/or are not U.S. citizens. Through both the schools and the community, Celis said he receives a large number of referrals for people in need of services.

With so many people in need of Spanish language mental health resources, The Strengthening Center opened a second location in Toledo. But Celis said he needs more support from other Spanish-speaking therapists.

“I'm in need of support. So for me, I can't do it all by myself. You know, as the only Spanish-speaking clinician in my team, it is very challenging for me to service all of these individuals, but I try my best,” Celis said.

Celis works with people of any immigration status and can offer some sessions pro bono. Although, he warned since he is both taking phone calls, scheduling appointments and running sessions, Celis said his time is pretty limited.

The Iowa Office of Latino Affairs compiled a list of Spanish-speaking and Latino mental health care providers across the state. Celis is listed as the only Latino, fluent Spanish-speaker in the Marshalltown area. Although, other mental health centers around the county do provide some Spanish language resources.

Celis said he thinks there should be much more in the area that has such a large number of Spanish-speakers.

“And for me, I don't see it as competition. I see it as an added support for the community. You know, I feel there's plenty of individuals that would benefit from services. For me, I would welcome any Spanish-speaking clinician. I'll even help with a transition into starting their own practice here,” Celis said as he laughed.

He is currently actively recruiting his brother, also a doctor, to move to rural Iowa from Los Angeles.

Celis stressed it’s not only important to have more bilingual mental health care providers, but also more bicultural ones. He said there’s a lot of stigma with mental health within many Latino communities. Parents sometimes don’t understand the need for mental health care for their children. Men sometimes fall under the pressures of machismo and don’t seek help.

“That has been a really big factor in establishing that relationship and breaking those barriers of you know, like, it's okay to talk to somebody or reach out for help, because, you know, I'm able to establish that dynamic within mental health,” he said. “I hear the phrase quantile SP last multiple times which is you know, get you'll get through this like you know get you know shape up get let's get this get this done. And that's where that's where the relationship discord is exacerbated."

The doctor admitted with combating stigma and running a full clinic, he hasn’t had time to reach out to state-supported resources.

“Those are on the works in the near future. But just right now, it's been a difficult task, just getting started. And I'm going full blast,” Celis said.

Celis is in Marshalltown on Tuesdays and Thursdays and in Toledo on the other weekdays.

You can reach The Strengthening Center at 641-351-6500 or through online chat here.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines