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Stigma-busters changing attitudes about mental health issues

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Listening to Leticia Chavez of Comprehensive Mental Health last night are (L-R) Antonio Ramos, Esteban Ferrer, Atanacia Lugo and Celso Lugo.

Mental illnesses are far better understood now than 20 years ago, but in the Latino culture mental problems are still a taboo subject.

A diversified work group made up of various organizations around the Yakima Valley is striving to fight the stigma surrounding mental health issues among the Latino population through education, including a series of classes that started earlier this year at St. Joseph’s school in Sunnyside.

This past Thursday night a class on phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder was presented by Leticia Chavez of Comprehensive Mental Health in Sunnyside. It was the third class in a series that has already covered subjects such as depression and anxiety, and offers people a chance to learn more about the issues in their native language.

“We are providing outreach for families and peers,” said Melissa Sanchez of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) Yakima. “There’s a stigma around mental health in the Latino culture, we’re trying to be stigma-busters.”

The classes, sponsored by Nuestra Casa, also give attendees the names and faces of people they can go to for help.

“We can refer them,” said Chavez. “They now know there is someone who understands the problem.”

The overall goal of the program is to educate the community and provide resources and support for an underserved population. The work group includes all the organizations involved in Thursday’s program and several other organizations and individuals around the Lower Valley.

Chavez started Thursday evening’s presentation with a video in Spanish that described the symptoms of depression and anxiety, then opened her presentation by answering questions about depression. The audience was engaged and responsive, listening closely and offering opinions.

“It has helped,” said Sanchez. “They just need access to this information.”

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