Last month a group of senators announced the establishment of the Senate Mental Health Caucus. The caucus was co-founded by Senator. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Tina Smith, D-Minn and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa. 

The formation of the Senate Mental Health Caucus appears to be a step toward addressing the mental health crisis in the United States. The caucus is expected to play a role in raising awareness about mental health issues, and in improving access to mental health care for all Americans, including Latinos.

Among those at the forefront of steering the creation of the caucus is Senator Padilla, a Mexican-American Senator from Los Angeles. Senator Padilla has held his seat since 2021 and has long been an advocate of mental health awareness. He has consistently tackled the intertwined issues of mental health and homelessness in California. In September, Senator Padilla (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced the Housing Alignment and Coordination of Critical and Effective Supportive Health Services (ACCESS) Act, legislation focused on addressing the intersecting crises of homelessness, mental health, and substance use disorder by increasing support for millions of low-income Americans on Medicaid. 

Senator Padilla has also spoken extensively about his own experiences with his family’s mental health struggles, citing his mother-in-law as one of the reasons he has one of the reasons he has pushed forward 

The bipartisan Senate Mental Health Caucus aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental health, advocate for bipartisan legislation, and organize events to raise awareness of crucial mental health issues. According to studies conducted by Mental Health America more than 16%, or approximately 10 million Latinos reported having a mental health condition. Research also indicates that serious mental health conditions among the Latino population are increasing. Many Latinos have found themselves encountering language barriers, lack of cultural competence, and difficulties related to immigration status and insurance coverage.

Senator Padilla spoke at a press conference alongside his colleagues Senator Tillis, R-N.C. Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn, and Republican Senator Joni Ernst at the Capitol on Oct 16. “People are finally beginning to realize the scale of our mental health crisis,” he said, “and the wall of stigma that prevents too many from getting help is starting to come down. Now we need to ensure there are resources ready to get Americans the help that they need.”

Michelle Zacarias is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she teaches Engaging Diverse Communities. Originally from Chicago...