MSAWs and their families face unique challenges that can have an impact on their mental health such as hazardous work environment, inadequate housing, limited health care access, poverty, cultural and language barriers, being apart from support systems (family and friends), fear of using healthcare due to immigration concerns, among others.8 The “new normal” of these present times brings new stressors such as social isolation, financial stress, and lack of COVID-19 knowledge or education. Changes to the usual ways of life can make people feel anxious and unsafe. The feelings of being unsafe can be associated with not knowing the cause, progression, or outcomes of the disease due to the lack of access to information in their appropriate language. This can lead to discrimination against people of specific descent, such as MSAWs.9 For example, MSAWs can face prejudice if they do not understand the guidelines of social distancing or wearing masks in public.
In addition to the fear of contracting the virus, the pandemic has added stress to financial concerns. MSAWs may be afraid of contracting the virus at work due to their working conditions but also fear not going to work and not having a paycheck. If they get the virus at work, it may be difficult to self-isolate due to their crowded living conditions.10 Due to this pandemic, many children are studying from home as daycares closed and schools have transitioned to online classes. This has created childcare obstacles for essential workers, including the nation’s more than 1 million hired farmworkers. In many cases school-aged children are staying home to take care of younger siblings so their parents can continue working in the fields. As a result of the economic impacts related to COVID-19, farmworkers are losing half of their income so one parent can stay behind and look after their children. Household budgets are using more electricity and needing more food, thus adding to the financial burden of MSAWs.11
Approximately 51% of farmworkers are Hispanic/Latino and about 88% are of Mexican descent.12 Mental health issues have a stigma in the Latino community and are seen as a sign of weakness, an issue to be kept quiet. In a recent study, Dr. Lorenzo, a Psychiatrist for Behavioral Health, credits five factors to helping her improve access to mental health in Latinos. Dr. Lorenzo suggests removing the language barrier between physicians and Latino to better understand their needs. She suggests collaboration with primary care physicians and encourages family involvement. She also recommends offering sensitive and culturally competent treatment to patients and educating them about the physiological roots of mental illness.13
Stress, depression, and anxiety are most likely to intensify with the pandemic restrictions and social distancing. Immigrant Latinos frequently experience social isolation in their receiving communities. Nearly 1 in 5 MSAWs (19.5 %) reported a high level of social isolation. Social isolation was associated with higher depressive symptoms and poorer physical and mental health, which is related to one’s quality of life. Social isolation is a common experience among immigrant Latinos that may have negative implications for physical and mental health. Community outreach efforts to minimize experiences of isolation may be useful in protecting immigrant physical and mental health.14 CHWs can link MSAWs and their families to local resources in their areas related to mental health, financial assistance, and health care services, including COVID-19 testing sites.
Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted members of the community they serve. CHWs are widely known to improve the health of their communities by linking their neighbors to health and social services. They mobilize their communities to create change by educating their peers about disease and injury prevention. CHWs meet participants where they are: at home, at work, or out in the community to better reach and meet their unique needs.15
CHWs have an understanding of MSAWs’ cultural norms and can communicate effectively in their language. CHWs are equipped to provide community-based, health-related services, such as assistance with translation, case management, and advocacy. CHWs can assist individuals that may not have access to information and resources either because they live in rural areas or due to their immigration status, language barriers they experience, lack of transportation, and/or knowledge of services. CHWs can provide referrals to local organizations that can assist with legal representation, health care applications, and housing or utility assistance.
The chart below shows how CHWs utilize unique strategies to respond to community challenges faced due to COVID-19, flu, and social isolation: