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“No estoy crazy”: Understanding and promoting mental health in the Latino community

Representatives from the Tarzana Treatment Center aim to destigmatize and spread awareness of mental health services.

By Marcos Franco, Managing Editor

(L-R) Representatives from the Tarzana Treatment Center, Ashley Gomez and Hilary Noori on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 in the ASU conference room at Valley College in Los Angeles, Calif. came to discuss mental health in the Latinx community in person and on Zoom. (Photo by Carmelita Thomas/The Valley Star)

Tarzana Treatment Centers hosted a mental health awareness workshop on Tuesday titled “No estoy crazy,” addressing the stigma surrounding therapy in the Latino community.

The event held on the second floor of the Student Union building was led by Mental Health Therapist Ashley Gomez and Medical Case Manager Hilary Noori. The hour-long meeting opened with a discussion of how mental health is perceived in a Latino household. Since the population that Gomez and Noori serve is predominantly Latino, they are driven by a duty to advocate for mental health treatment in the hispanic community as well as spread awareness across cultures.

“We all want to be culturally empathetic towards all cultures so we have a better understanding of their background and where they come from,” said Gomez, who is from a Salvadorian background. “In my household, if you’re angry, sad or frustrated, it is presented as anger rather than stress.”

Cultural barriers often prevent people from seeking guidance in a mental health professional. In the Latino community, religion, language, lack of knowledge and negative stereotypes portrayed on television created barriers around mental health and therapy.

In some cultures the practice of curanderismo — a folk healing system originating in Latin America — is used to ward off both physical and mental health diseases. Tradition, religion and spirituality are passed down to generations paving the way for how mental stresses and burdens should be handled.

Gomez and Noori explain that limited participation from parents is a challenge when working with kids. Since most people head into therapy not knowing what to expect, it can be an uncomfortable situation at the start which is why earning the trust of patients early on is crucial.

“The first couple meetings are used to make therapy a collaborative experience,” said Gomez. “Rather than trying to change them [patients], we work jointly to help them, emphasizing that the time is theirs and that they are a priority.”

The two discussed the belief of some Latino households, in which personal problems are kept within the family, and never aired out. Releasing bundled up emotions is either seen as weakness or complaining, a belief that is reinforced in children and passed down generations.

Gomez and Noori encourage patients to make time for themselves by scheduling at least 30 minutes per day to do something that they enjoy. Prioritizing one’s mental health can help to release pressure and tension

According to the 2019 census there are 60.5 million hispanics in the United States, accounting for 18.5 percent of the total population. Latinos have the highest uninsured rates over any culture. Data shows that Prior to the Affordable Care Act, nearly one third of nonelderly Latinos were uninsured compared to 13.1 percent of those who are White according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It is possible that for this reason, the Latino population lacks the proper knowledge of benefits that therapy has to offer.

“Therapy could also be used as a preventative measure,” said Gomez. “If you're able to catch that soon, go on and talk to somebody. We want to be conscious of when our mental health is affecting our daily functions. When those things are compromised, we want to look into services so we can remedy those feelings.”

The health center, located on the first floor of the Student Union building adjacent to the cafeteria, offers free on-campus mental health and psychological presentations and services. Students are covered by their $19 student health fee due at the start of each semester.

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