Speak Your Mind

“For us Hispanics, it’s taboo to talk about this, but it’s just like having any other illness, such as cancer or diabetes. Parents need to be a pillar of support for their children who are battling this disease. I’ve told her that her family will always be there, no matter who she is.  She is our girl, and we love her,” explains Maria Zapata as she sits beside her 17-year-old daughter, Cinthya.

 Cinthya, reserved and calm, begins: “I was a happy girl, but when I was 12 years old things started to change...very lonely, very depressed.  I was always tired. I just wanted to sleep all the time...I tried to kill myself three times. I felt it was the only solution to fix my problems—to end everything.”

Cinthia and her mother shared their personal story in a video, one of several featured on HablameTeEscucho.org and SpeakYourMindTexas.org, as part of an initiative by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), to address the often-ignored crisis of undiagnosed mental health issues facing teens and young adults.

An estimated one in five Americans experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, with one in 20 developing a serious mental illness. Mental illness and substance use, often linked, strike early. Half of all cases begin before age 14 and three-fourths by age 24. Ignoring the signs or simply hoping “they’ll grow out of it” risks dire consequences such as chronic depression, addiction, incarceration, and even suicide.

 The Speak Your Mind Texas campaign, developed by Austin, TX firm Sherry Matthews Advocacy Marketing, builds awareness around mental illness and substance abuse, in an effort to reduce the stigma and spread the message that recovery is possible. The goal is to help parents, educators, community leaders and young adults recognize the warning signs of mental illness and get help. Testimonial-style public service announcements in both English and Spanish tear down stereotypes and tug at the heart, prompting viewers to find out more at the campaign website or at local, town hall-style meetings.

“Mental health issues are common, and we want everyone, especially young people, to realize that help is available,” said Lauren Lacefield Lewis, DSHS Assistant Commissioner for mental health and substance abuse services. “If you or someone you know is facing a mental health issue, speak up and get help, because treatment works and people do get better.”

Recognizing that every community has its own story to tell about how mental health issues and substance abuse impact its citizens, 16 Community Conversations were held this year throughout the state of Texas. People who interact with young adults were encouraged to attend. A recent Community Conversation in the Rio Grande Valley included panel discussions led by subject experts, testimonials, small group dialogue and resources to help those who can make a difference.

“The campaign by the Texas Department of State Health Services mirrors the goals of the National Dialogue on Mental Health – a national initiative to bring community members together to share their experiences, learn what resources are available, and work together to make it easier for young people like Cinthya to get the help they need,” said Susan McCormack, Community Liaison for Creating Community Solutions, a part of the National Dialogue on Mental Health. “Mental Illness isn’t just a personal problem. It’s a community issue, and we can all help. Events like Community Conversations bring mental health out of the shadows and are a great way to get involved.”

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health provide several Spanish-language resources to highlight avenues for wellness and recovery. These resources include MentalHealth.gov en Español, which has resources and information about prevention, treatment, and recovery from mental health conditions.  The website also focuses on the importance of talking about mental health and engaging parents, young people, and professionals serving Spanish-speaking populations, along with other community leaders in conversations about mental health. Another resource is the Toolkit for Community Conversations About Mental Health (Diálogos comunitarios acerca de la salud mental) which supports communities interested in holding conversations about mental health.

 By Alicia Smith


Do You Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

If you know why the caged bird sings, on May 28, 2014 you know it stopped singing for a bit.  The woman who understood why it sang died on that day and I am sure a moment of silence was held by it in her honor.

It is daunting to attempt to list all that Dr. Maya Angelou (born Marguerite Johnson) was and did or even all that she overcame. A civil rights activist, an author (her I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first in a series of autobiographies, published in 1969, remained on the New York Times paperback best seller list for about 2 years), a poet (“On the Pulse of the Morning” was recited by her at President Clinton’s 1993 inauguration), a historian, a director (one of the first black women in Hollywood,  Down in the Delta, 1998), an actress, a singer/songwriter, a playwright, a dancer.

I experienced deep sorrow when I heard of her passing.  Though so many others have left us in these past months, I was touched in particular by her departure.  Perhaps it was because she was truly the embodiment of an artist in its multiple forms. Perhaps because I admired how she triumphed and survived events that would have destroyed others (rape, prostitution, teenage motherhood).  Perhaps it was because, in a way, I identified with her as a traveler.  Perhaps it was because she mastered numerous languages, speaking French, Italian, Arabic, West African Fanti and Spanish.  Perhaps it was because I felt a connection in our common nickname, Maya.

In interviews I had seen of her, her voice was slow, deliberate and unhurried, yet the passion, the fortitude, the commitment were so dominating. Fortunate for us -- she had so much wisdom to share-- there was a quality in it that just quieted you and made you listen.  Very fortunate indeed are we to have had an opportunity to hear it at all, for after being raped at a young age by her mother’s  boyfriend, she was encouraged to speak out about it.  She did and the man was beaten to death.  She described that her young seven-and-a-half-year-old brain deduced her voice had killed him and proceeded to not speak for almost six years.  I am so grateful she found her voice and brought it to us.

She was born on an April 4th.  On another April 4th, Martin Luther King was assassinated.  For years she stopped celebrating her birthday because of it.  How do you think they are commemorating the date now that they are together?

In an interview with George Stroumboulopoulos, he asked her: “What brings you the most joy today?”  Her response:  “Joy brings me joy.  I love to make people laugh and to tell people things that they might not have thought of before...  yes, that brings me joy.”

If there is someone whose voice will never silence, it is she.  So it is in that, where I found solace.  So much of what she said will populate social media, our conversations, and our minds.  The quotes are plastered everywhere and will no doubt encourage many in their path through life:

“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because love liberates. Love liberates it doesn’t just hold, that’s ego, love liberates!”

She was loved by so many; there is no doubt that she has been liberated.

Lidia Pires is an actress, blogera, and adventuress who resides somewhere in Los Angeles.