Over 70 parents explored the issue of mental health within the Latino community in a March 7 workshop hosted by the San Benito High School and Hollister School District Migrant Education programs. It was the first of three workshops to be held in the community, the result of a partnership between the high school and the Hollister School District Migrant Department.
“So many of our migrant students, they discovered, are suffering from depression, fear and anxiety,” said Kim Guzzetti, Region 2 director with the California Migrant Education Office. “And so, we are doing awareness nights for parents to understand what is mental health. How can you tell if your child is depressed? How can you tell if they are suffering from anxiety or are about to go into panic attacks?”
The workshops are funded by the annual federal Migrant Education Program Grant. School districts receive such grants to help fund services including afterschool programs, tutoring, and health needs, Guzzetti said. She added that newer grant guidelines have put emphasis on mental health.
Guzzetti said resources are only available to students who qualify to be in the Migrant Program, which are those whose parents work in the agriculture, fishing, dairy, or lumber industries. Another requirement is that students had to have relocated in the last three years. The Hollister School District at one point had 1,500 Migrant Program students, but now there are 600 because of the stricter definition, she said.
At the workshop, parents were asked to name reasons why Latinos don’t seek help with mental health. Some said Latinos feel shame, outside judgment and are afraid of being labeled crazy. Guzzetti’s presentation called it having the mentality of “La ropa sucia se lava en casa (Dirty laundry is washed at home),” meaning you deal with problems within the family.
Other reasons included the language barrier, not knowing what resources are available and not realizing that they need help.
Social worker Eliana Delgadillo with Youth Alliance led a breakout group and spoke about the signs of possible suicide risk, how to help and what resources are available to help those in need of support. She emphasized the importance of communication, even when a suicidal comment is made as a joke.
“Muchas veces uno como Hispano, se cierra mucho,” said Noemi Velarde, mother of three. “Y no se anima uno hacer las preguntas. Y aquí nos están asesorando nos, nos están diciendo, nos están enseñando cómo podemos hablarles sin temor a nuestros hijos.”
(“A lot of times, us Hispanics, we are tight. We don’t have the courage to ask the questions. Here, they are telling us, teaching us how we can speak to our children without fear.”)
Delgadillo asked parents to practice asking two follow-up questions with each other as a response to someone contemplating suicide:
- Tienes pensamientos de suicidarte? (Do you have suicidal thoughts?)
- Estas Pensando quitarte la vida? (Are you thinking of taking your life?)
These, Delgadillo said, are the initial steps in helping someone. She said if the person answers yes, it’s important to ask if they had a plan, how long they’ve had those plans or how long they’ve had suicidal thoughts.
The key, according to the presentation, is to build trust with the person in need by letting them know you are concerned for them, as well as allowing them to be part of the decision-making by asking if there is someone to call, if they want the crisis hotline (1-800-TALK), or if they want to keep it a secret.
Whatever the answers may be, Delgadillo said not to leave the person alone.
Said parent Jose Francisco Vera: “Es una herramienta con la que uno debe de contar. Es información que mucha veces pasa desapercibido. No le da uno la importancia que debe de ser.”
(“It’s a tool that one must have. It’s information that many times goes unnoticed. We don’t give it the importance that we should.”)
Delgadillo pointed out things not to do, such as make the person feel worse by imposing punishment—in the case of children or teens—or avoiding social contact. It’s important to understand that people who feel suicidal are in a stressful situation and most times they feel like death is their only way out, she said.
The next workshop is March 13 at the San Benito High School Library at 5:45 p.m. and will focus on self-care. The final workshop, scheduled for April 3, will look at how fitness, nutrition and social-emotional awareness play a part in good health.