Longevity resources: Reaching the Latino community — and vice versa

Estrella Portillo knows seeking immediate mental health assistance in relation to the Latino community is a big challenge.

Portillo, a 28-year-old Latina who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley from Mexico when she was 12, encountered these challenges almost immediately.

“I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a long time,” she said. Though she realized and understood what these mental symptoms were, there was a seemingly impenetrable stigma attached to them. “Because in my family, if you have accepted that you have a mental illness, then you’re weak.”

The Glenwood Springs High School graduate said from adults to children, Latinos are reluctant to get the proper care and resources they need for any type of mental health issues, including substance abuse and suicide.

“I’m coming from a family of immigrants, and mental health is just nonexistent,” she said. “It’s something that’s not talked about in Latino families. We just brushed it under the rug.”

Portillo takes classes through Naropa University in Boulder, and has recently been researching ways to foster more mental health awareness among the Hispanic community of the Roaring Fork Valley. Her research has so far uncovered barriers such as neglect, access to health insurance and language leading to significant mental health challenges.

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to drive discussion about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year’s project focuses on mental health. The Aspen Times and Glenwood Springs Post Independent are partnering over the next month, and we will explore topics in mental health including resources (today), substance abuse (Sept. 3), suicide prevention (Sept. 10) and law enforcement (Sept. 17).

Our project culminates with events Sept. 20 in Aspen (6 p.m.) and Rifle (noon) with a panel discussion of local leaders and speaker Kevin Hines. An award-winning global speaker, best-selling author, documentary filmmaker and suicide prevention and mental health advocate, Hines has reached millions with his story of an unlikely survival. Two years after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Since the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, thousands of people have tried to kill themselves by leaping. Only 34 have lived, and he is one of them. For more information or to register for the local events, go to

“They come here to work and have a better life for their families or themselves, and they’re running away from something major, whether it was a traumatic experience, violence, poverty,” she said. “And all they do here is work. … They don’t know how to give themselves the space and time to work on themselves emotionally.”

“They don’t feel like they have someone that they trust,” she added.

For some, there’s also a language barrier.

“I definitely think there’s a need for more bilingual professionals,” Portillo said. “And everywhere, from cops to nurses to therapists to social workers and just people that are spreading awareness — it’s not enough.”

Leslie Venegas is trying to alleviate this dilemma. The bilingual Latina runs the Celebrate Recovery program in New Castle and is a peer specialist at Mind Springs Health in Glenwood Springs.

“I see a lot of need from the Hispanic community, so I’ve encountered a lot of people that are in need of resources,” she said. “Either they’re not informed, or there are not many resources available to them.”

Venegas said there are simply more resources available to the English-speaking community.

“And there’s a lot of Hispanics that don’t speak English, or they don’t feel comfortable coming to somebody that doesn’t come from the same background as them, because we are a different culture,” she said.

Celebrate Recovery is a Christian-based, 12-step recovery program designed to help anyone struggling with “hurt, pain or addiction of any kind,” according to its mission stated online. Mind Springs Health, meanwhile, is Western Colorado’s largest provider of counseling and therapy for mental wellness.

Like Aspen Strong, Celebrate Recovery provides a 24/7 call-in service for people requesting immediate assistance, as well as additional treatment options. And with people like Venegas on the frontlines, it helps better reach the Latino community.

“I pretty much meet with people that are struggling with substance use disorder, or mental health,” Venegas said. “It’s kind of a support system to help them connect them to different people or support systems.”

“We’re a really good resource for people, because we’ve been there,” she added.


Note: Resources taken from a mental health map available on

Counseling, therapy, case management

Aspen Strong

• How to get help: Call 970-718-2842 or visit

Mountain Family Health Center

• How to get help: Call 945-2840 or visit

Mind Springs Health

• How to get help: Call the Aspen office at 970-920-5555 or the Glenwood Springs office at 970-945-2583. Also, visit

24-hour hotlines

Colorado Crisis services

• Call 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

Hope Center

• Aspen: 970-925-5858

• Eagle: 970-306-4673

• Garfield: 970-945-3728

Grief and loss

• Pathfinders: 970-925-1226

Child and family

• Aspen Family connections: 970-205-7025

Family Resource Center

• Roaring Fork office: 970-384-9500

• Parachute: 970-285-5701

Servicios en español

Mind Springs Health

• Aspen office: 970-920-5555

• Glenwood Springs office: 970-945-2583

Mountain Family Health Centers

• Call 970-945-2840

Aspen Strong

• Directorio de terapeutas: 970-718-2842

Discovery Cafe

• Call 719-650-5978 and speak with Gabe Cohen.

• Email Cohen at

• Visit

• Visit Discovery Cafe at the Colorado Mountain College Rifle campus at 3695 Airport Road, Rifle.

West Mountain Regional Health Alliance

• Call 970-429-6186

• Visit

Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or