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Exploring intercultural health

Posted 11:40 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023

Psychologists Magdalena Pérez, left, and Michelle Díaz from Luna Behavioral Health Center in Elgin, IL., visited UWL classrooms.

Students learn about the importance of mental health services for culturally-diverse populations

UW-La Crosse Spanish and psychology students learned about the importance of mental health services for culturally-diverse populations during a classroom visit Monday, Sept. 25. 

Psychologists Magdalena Pérez and Michelle Díaz from Luna Behavioral Health Center in Elgin, IL. shared their experience growing a behavioral health center and starting a free support group called “Las Lunitas” for Latina adolescents to explore, process and cope with stressors. 

Students were surprised by the strong demand for Spanish-speaking health professionals and impressed with the quick growth of Luna Behavioral Health Center, even as the center’s leaders did not have backgrounds in business. 

“I think it goes to show how when you see a need for a service as important as theirs, it can go a long way in a community that needs it,” says Michael Stack, a sophomore studying Exercise Science with the Certificate of Spanish for the Health Professions. 

Steven Verhaalen, a junior with a biology major with chemistry and Spanish minors, found it interesting that the need for Spanish-speaking therapists was significant, and that it only took Pérez and Díaz three years to get where they are today.   

“I greatly enjoyed hearing their perspective on the business and seeing how much impact they truly have on the Latino population,” adds Avery Amenson, a freshman biology major with Spanish minor. 

Latina adolescents are more likely to experience depressive symptoms and less likely to receive mental health treatment than White peers. Barriers to treatment range from negative experiences to logistical problems associated with getting treatment. Latina adolescents also often navigate the acculturation differences between themselves and their caregivers and/or their social circles, according to a recent report published on the American Psychological Association website.  

Las Lunitas support group offers a safe place to speak about all of these challenges and find healthy ways of coping with them.   

Visitors speak with multiple UWL classes

From left, Psychologists Magdalena Pérez and Michelle Díaz.

Díaz and Pérez also visited Professor Ryan McKelley’s Abnormal Psychology class and Professor Ruth Schumacher-Martinez’s Human Relations in School and Society class where they shared various case studies. Their visit, part of Hispanic Heritage Month activities, Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, also included a talk at the Student Union Theatre and visit with staff from UWL’s Counseling and Testing Center. 

The visit was particularly useful for students studying Spanish for Mental Health Professionals, a course taught by Professor Antonio Martín Gómez. This course is a requisite for the Certificate of Spanish for the Health Professions. During the Q&A portion, students asked the speakers questions in Spanish and they translated their response for the English-speaking audience.   


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