Self-Help Groups In Spanish Are Filling A Gap In Mental Health Assistance
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 own 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.
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," De Loera said. "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."
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 De Loera, 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,” she 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 and watched motivational videos, thinking she knew everything there is to know about motivation and self-help.
One of the self-help groups she attended was Salud + Bienestar. The Wichita-based organization is led by Catalina Garcia and Denise Romero.
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. The group'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. Like many individuals, De Loera said she has seen an improvement in her mental health from programs like these. Though it is challenging for Hispanics to talk about their mental health with someone, oftentimes they 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,” co-founder 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 other events. 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 people can benefit from their help. They plan on empowering Hispanics through knowledge and teach them about resources available to them they can benefit from.
Another individual in the Wichita area looking to help people with their mental health struggles is Jessica Provines, assistant vice president and wellness director at Wichita State University's Counseling and Prevention Services. Provines said has seen a great improvement recently 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,” she 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.”
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 few and far between, self-help and support groups could be the answer for many individuals looking for help.
Al-Anon is a worldwide fellowship that offers a program of recovery for families and friends of alcoholics to share their experiences.
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. She's 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. She proactively invites people to learn about Al-Anon through events and live talks on local radio.
Despite the lack of participation from Hispanics in local events, Claudia said groups at Al-Anon are steady.
“There are people who attend once and do not go back, but most people stay," she said. "There is a matter of finding the right group, where one can feel comfortable." 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. Rather, the group encourages 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.
For De Loera, coming out of her shell wasn't easy, and she said she still struggles at times to attend community events. But she pushes herself, knowing she will learn something from the experience.
Al-Anon groups in Spanish in Wichita:
Nuevo Amanecer - 2409 N. Market St., Wednesdays 10 a.m. and Tuesdays 7:30 p.m., 316-393-6542/316-200-4866
Renacer (young adults) - 2801 S Seneca, Fridays 6 p.m. and Sundays 5 p.m., 316-518-9166
Serenidad - 2760 S. Roosevelt, Tuesdays 12:30 p.m., 316-258-0234/316-683-2913
Buscando Libertad - 1902 W. 13th, Friday 6 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m., 316-871-1872
More information on Salud+Bienestar
-2700 N Woodland Wichita, KS 67204
-Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 9 - 11 a.m
This story was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of seven media companies and three community organizations, including KMUW, working together to bring timely and accurate news and information to Kansans.