Behavioral Health and the Underserved

Improving behavioral healthcare for the Latinx community in Memphis

Drs. Elena Delavega, professor and DSW Program Director, and Susan Neely-Barnes, professor, director, and chair from the University of Memphis School of Social Work, have received a $60,000 grant for one year to enhance behavioral health services to the underserved and largely uninsured Latinx community in Memphis. This collaboration will involve Latinx social workers to serve the needs of the Latinx community at Church Health.  The goals of the project are as follows:

  1. To increase access to behavioral health services for the Latinx community in Memphis.
  2. To improve the mental/emotional health of clients who seek behavioral health services at Church Health.
  3. To increase University of Memphis student engagement at Church Health through internships and service learning.
  4. To develop a course in integrated, community-based behavioral health that can be taught onsite at Church Health and provide community engagement with the programs and services at Crosstown.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2015, Hispanics made up 17.6% of the total U.S. population, up from 3.5% in 1960. According to their projections, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population is expected to reach 24% by 2065. In the Memphis MSA, the Hispanic or Latinx population increased by almost 20% from 2015 to 2022 even as the total population of the Memphis MSA declined by almost 15,000 people (Delavega, 2026; Delavega & Blumenthal, 2023). As the Hispanic population continues increasing in the U.S. and in the Memphis MSA, it will be important to provide linguistically and culturally sensitive services. Moreover, the poverty rate among the Hispanic or Latinx population (17.5%) is higher than the overall poverty rate (15.7%), rendering this population particularly vulnerable and in need special support. This fact brings with it the need for bilingual social workers in Memphis, TN and all around the country. Bilingualism and cultural competence are required in order to provide effective services to the Hispanic community. Unmet needs for mental health services for Latino adults are primary due to organizational barriers to accessing services such as language and cultural barriers, secondary to a lack of translators, dearth of information on available services, and scarcity of providers representative of the Latino community (Barrio et al.,2008).

Church Health and the School of Social Work are dedicated to providing linguistically and culturally competent services to meet the needs of all in Memphis, and this project will advance the ability of this community to serve the most vulnerable among us. The impact this project will have in Memphis is tremendous: It will improve the health and mental health of the community and promote social integration and well-being. A healthier community and a more integrated community will improve the potential for success for the entire area and contribute to the reduction of poverty and crime.

For more information on this project, contact Delavega at mdlavega@memphis.edu, or Neely-Barnes at snlybrns@memphis.edu.