Designed with and for the Latino community, we are really pleased by the increased interest in our Encuentros model of non-clinical peer-led emotional support groups. On July 11, our Executive Director Diego Uriburu’s letter to the editor was published in response to a Washington Post editorial on what governors can do about the youth mental health crisis. In the letter he describes how Encuentros participants are serving as agents of change by helping peers manage difficult emotions related to immigration, family separation and the pandemic.

Communities can help with peer mental health

Regarding the July 5 editorial, “How governors can improve youth mental health”:

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy correctly calls the youth mental health crisis the “defining health issue of our time.” Core principles of the response from state policymakers and local advocates must include listening to and learning from those most affected about their needs, values and traditions.

As executive director of Identity, a multi-service organization primarily serving Latino youths and families in Montgomery County, I have seen firsthand how the youth mental health crisis in our community both long predates and was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

But mental health is not “one size fits all.” In the Latino community, neighbors help neighbors during hard times. Sometimes it is easier opening up to a peer than to a professional. That is why Identity’s Encuentros program trains trusted members of the Latino community to lead peer-based emotional support groups. Participants report having an easier time managing their own stress and anxiety and helping family members experiencing similar challenges. Individuals needing additional assistance receive referrals to clinical care.

More than 2,000 parents and teenagers have participated over the past three years. It shows how recognizing unique challenges and cultural sensitivities is essential to helping everyone — irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity, income level or access to health care.

No single program will solve this crisis. But by following the principle of Encuentros — the act of coming together — we can all make a meaningful and lasting difference.

Diego Uriburu, Rockville