I recently attended a Mental Health Legislative Breakfast. I’ve never been to one and didn’t know what to expect. I entered a room full of mental health professionals with a lot of trepidation; after all I’m not a mental health professional although I am a bridge to mental health services. After the traditional welcome speeches and politician’s greetings, we got down to business.
The speaker who impressed me the most, and inspired this article was, Senior Director of Government Affairs for Mental Health America, Julio Abreu. He has been an advocate for public health and civil rights for seventeen years. He brought us some startling statistics. Last year the United States saw eighteen thousand homicides; a number that, while reduced from other years, still causes concern and media attention. However, last year also saw thirty-four thousand suicides, a number that also causes concern but no media attention. A number twice that of homicides. Director Abreu spoke with passion and expressed a commitment to a cause near and dear to my heart.
As soon as the speeches were over, I made a beeline to his side. Rather than a handshake, Julio gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He told me I looked familiar and I gave him the old joke about all Puerto Ricans looking alike. Julio, despite his lofty position, was a real person. He is a product of Washington Heights, in Upper Manhattan, New York City and a product of the public school system. He is one of our own. Our personal conversation focused on the needs of the Latino community and the reluctance to seek assistance. The whole “Ay, Ay, Ay,” “Man Up,” and pastillas p’a los nervios doesn’t work anymore.
Latinos are considered at high risk for depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. How many of us have seen this in our families or in ourselves? How many of us have actually sought assistance from mental health professionals? And if we do, how many of us have hidden this fact from friends or family members? Too many of us hide what is going on inside. Agencies in areas with large populations of Latinos are constantly trying to engage our communities into a dialogue regarding treatment modalities.
As a career Social Worker, I knew what therapy was all about and even I was reluctant to seek assistance when it was needed. Three and a half years of therapy later, I am a stronger, more confident person and questioned my initial reluctance. There is nothing left to hide.