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Self-Help Groups in Spanish are filling the gap on Mental Health issues.

By: Christian Torres and Claudia Amaro

Luz María De Loera, who defines health as stability, and positive feelings such as happiness and self-fulfillment, has been working hard in recent years on improving her mental health. For many years De Loera did not realize that she was experiencing mental health problems. Living with anxiety and depression became a normal state in her life, she said. De Loera believes that she inherited some of those symptoms from her mother and other family members which eventually caused her to isolate herself, especially when she moved to the United States with her husband and kids.

Luz Maria De Loera seating at her porch. Pictured by Julian Montes

De Loera understands the stigma of mental health in the Hispanic Community. She realized that guilt does not help when trying to survive mental health conditions. De Loera lived in isolation for many years, trying to protect herself and her family when she migrated from Mexico,

“Isolation is a two-edged sword, I have learned to enjoy being alone, but it also limits us to knowing people with different ideas, making us reject those who do not think the same as us,” De Loera said.

The lack of social interaction in many Hispanic families has taken a toll on their mental Health. Studies show that social relationships have short and long-term effects on health. Places like Wichita often lack multicultural spaces where more people can interact and learn from one another. Some Latinos, like Luz Maria, have been living in Wichita for many years and have ignored the warning signs of mental health issues.

“Sometimes it is necessary to hit rock bottom to realize that we have a problem,” De Loera said.

De Loera did not realize that she needed some help until a friend invited her to a self-help group. In the past, she attended therapy many times, listened to podcasts, watched motivational videos, thinking she knew everything there is to know about motivation and self-help, De Loera said.

One of the self-help groups she attended was Salud + Bienestar. This organization is based out of Wichita, Kansas and is led by Catalina Garcia and Denise Romero. Salud + Bienestar aims to help Hispanics in the ICT area in regard to their physical and mental health. Through their social media and weekly meetings, Salud + Bienestar provides useful resources like COVID-19 vaccination sites, food-drives, local events and much more to the Hispanic community.

Evergreen Recreation Center. Photography by Julian Montes

Salud + Bienestar’s main objective is to help Hispanics in the Wichita area better their mental health. Members of the Hispanic community meet throughout the week to discuss their personal struggles with mental health. De Loera, like many individuals, have seen an improvement in their mental health in results from programs like these. It is challenging for Hispanics to talk about their mental health with someone, but oftentimes find it easier to confide in someone like them.

“There’s no other Hispanic organization that is helping the Wichita community – Salud + Bienestar is the only organization that is giving entire information in Spanish,” Garcia said. “We’re planting the seed with the people who come to us for help. There is a place they can come to if they need information, clothes or food.”

Garcia and Romero believe that helping people with basic needs first will also help with their mental health. They have seen a great turnout among the Hispanic community to their weekly meetings and events held by Salud + Bienestar. Recently, they organized a food-drive to help people affected by COVID-19, which saw hundreds of people show up.

“When we have over five-hundred people show up to our food drive that we organized, we know it’s working,” Romero said.

Garcia and Romero plan on taking Salud + Bienestar to other cities where Hispanics can benefit from their help. They plan on empowering Hispanics through knowledge and teach them about resources available to them they can benefit from. Salud + Bienestar hopes to impact the lives of many more Hispanics in the community in years to come.

Another individual in the Wichita area looking to help people with their mental health struggles is Jessica Provines, who is the Assistant Vice President and Wellness Director at the Counseling and Prevention Services for Wichita State University. Provines has seen a great improvement in recent times when it comes to people speaking up about their mental health.

“As awareness is growing, I am seeing more and more younger generations being more willing to talk to their families and educate them about mental health,” Provines said.

When it comes to mental health in the Hispanic community, Provines says toxic masculinity plays a role in it. “There is some Toxic masculinity that can lead to particularly Hispanic males being hesitant to seek mental health services,” she said. “From my experiences, there can be a tendency which can be a good thing… to rely very heavily on the family and not seek professional help in these situations.”

Photography by Julian Montes
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. By Julian Montes

When talking about mental health, it is more common for Hispanics to look for help within community groups rather than seek professional assistance. Often people turn for advice to their religious leaders or organized groups within their church. In Wichita, where Spanish-speaking therapists are seldom, self-help groups, also known as support groups, are the answer for many individuals who are looking for help.

Al-Anon is a world-wide fellowship that offers a program of recovery for families and friends of alcoholics who share their experience. For some families and individuals like Claudia (whose last name we will not disclose, to respect Al-anon policy) attending some of these meetings has made a big difference in her mental health. Claudia has been a member of Al-anon for four years and considers it a philosophy and choice of life.

“I have seen people coming to our group, people who have been in therapy before and they can’t explain how they start healing by attending the meetings,” she said.

Claudia believes in therapy and professional help, but also realizes many people do not have access to those resources and proactively invites people through live talks on local radio to know about Al-anon stations and events where they invite people to participate. Despite the lack of participation from Hispanics in local events, groups at Al-anon are quite steady, Claudia said.

“There are people who attend once and do not go back but most people stay. There is a matter of finding the right group, where one can feel comfortable,” she said.

In describing how a meeting at Al-anon works, Claudia said, “Someone invites you to a meeting, when you arrive you will find a table where people will be seated, there is a new coordinator every week who prepares the subject to discuss, if there is a person coming for the first time, we design a special theme for that person, people share and the process of organizing and preparing give us all new skills that allows to grow.”

For Claudia, the support group has made a big difference in her life.

“It has been a life saver for me,” she said.

Although Al-anon was created to help family members of alcoholics, they help everyone and do not question the reason someone is there but rather encourage people to come together to share strength and hope.

Groups like Salud+Bienestar and Al-Anon are available to the community to help individuals talk about their mental health struggles with others who share similar experiences. People like De Loera have found great success in attending meetings from organizations like these and she actively participates in both groups. Coming out of the shell was not easy for her, she said, and still struggles at times to attend community events, but pushes herself knowing she will learn something from the experience and sees an improvement in the interactions she has with her family and others around her.

Below are four Al-anon groups in Spanish in the Wichita area.

· Nuevo Amanecer - 2409 N Market St. Wichita, KS 316-393-6542/316-200-4866 Wednesdays 10 a.m. and Tuesdays 7:30 p.m.

· Renacer (Young Adults) - 2801 S Seneca Wichita, KS 316-518-9166

Fridays 6:00 p.m. and Sundays 5:00 p.m.

· Serenidad - 2760 S Roosevelt Wichita, KS 316-258-0234/316-683-2913

Tuesdays 12:30 p.m.

· Buscando Libertad - 1902 W 13th Wichita, KS 316-871-1872

Fridays 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays 9:00 a.m.

Salud+Bienestar group in Spanish in the Wichita area.

This story was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of seven media companies and three community organizations, including #PlanetaVenus working together to bring timely and accurate news and information to Kansans.

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