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Creating Change through Mental Health

Filed Under: Family, Health, Immigrants, Programs

Pictured from left to right: Top Row: Carlos Disdier, Hortencia Valles, Marina Soto, Emily Aviles, Julio Gonzales, Bertha Low. Bottom Row: Evelyn Mejia, Juanita Mena, Yvette Flores.

Given the recent disaster in Puerto Rico, floods in Texas and elsewhere, fires in Napa, and Dreamers threatened by the end of DACA, it’s not surprising that Latinos continue to need support to address trauma, displacement, loss, and grief. Families and service providers often ask what can be done to heal from these challenges. Before these disastrous events, La Clínica served 400 clients a year; this number is now expected to be higher.

With the loss of lives, homes, jobs, and community, it’s hard to imagine why people would prioritize their mental health. As La Clínica’s Program Manager, Carlos Disdier, offers: “We live in a fast-paced society where we have to manage increased demands, stressors, identities, and constraints. We often don’t set aside time for ourselves, to reflect on our needs, emotions, and experiences. And yet, by not addressing our own needs, we don’t allow ourselves to heal.”

Carlos understands this phenomenon on a personal level. “As a proud Puerto Rican with family still on the island, I constantly think about what’s happening there. No matter what I’m focused on, thoughts of Puerto Rico never leave me. It’s a huge reminder to me that it takes a lot of energy to manage emotional pain and loss.”

Yet, while mental health impacts everything, including feeling safe and coping with stressors, it’s often put on the back burner to address our financial stability, housing needs, and other issues. When we don’t address our mental health,” offers Carlos, “these issues can become aggravated and more serious. When our community is under attack and we feel the stress, one of the strongest tools we have for change is to organize. However, if the community feels devalued, demoralized and dehumanized, how can they generate hope for the future? Mental health is at the center of our organizing potential.”

Carlos’ perspective is part of what sets IFR apart from other mental health agencies. “IFR uses a cultural lens, but our social/historical lens is also relevant. Instead of starting with a clinical mental health perspective and look at culture last, IFR flips this dynamic. We promote cultural humility by connecting with the person first. La Clínica’s clinicians are trained to understand clients’ history with their family and community first instead of starting with symptoms.”

As Carlos explains, this approach establishes a strong foundation for what is typically referred to as treatment. “Much of what we do is to address ‘la experiencia fronterisa.’ In fact, nearly all of our clients have a symptom that is rooted in racism, immigration, or trauma. That’s what is unique about IFR. Mental health is about validating the broader context of one’s family story.”

On a daily basis, Carlos and his team in La Clínica ensure that mental health is rooted in promoting social justice. “This is a place where people can find a healing space to breathe, and find empowerment to work for their goals-for themselves, their families, and their communities.” We’re here to help them get there.”

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