July 05, 2016

By Pedro Pacheco Mendoza

Mental health concerns affect people regardless of their religious background, ethnicity or nationality. But how do people from different communities react to mental health issues? What beliefs are held regarding mental health issues in minority communities? What resources are available for families when their primary language is not English? How can we reach out and include all families that are searching for hope? These questions have shaped our efforts at NAMI Lane County, Ore.

Starting the conversation about minority mental health can be intimidating for several reasons: you might not know that much information about other cultures, you might not identify yourself as part of a minority community and you definitely don’t want to offend anyone. That’s why National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is a great opportunity to engage with and help more families. We used this awareness month to show that we are actively working to make our community more inclusive, because mental health conditions affect everyone.

We got 25 agencies to participate in our Hope Starts with You Symposium with the intention of creating a network of professionals who care about minority mental health. During the event, we discussed the barriers minority communities experience when trying to access mental health care and how we can all work together to remove those barriers.

We invited the city mayor to proclaim July as Minority Mental Awareness Month and to join our initiative. She accepted our request and has been helping us create a more conscious environment for minority mental health. We also got pledges from city council members, giving NAMI Lane County visibility.

If you are interested in doing a similar project, here are a few tips:

  • Invite agencies that work with families from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds such as child welfare, Head Start, food banks and social services.
  • Choose a date and time when people will be less busy and able to attend.
  • Reserve a room ahead of time.
  • Create a flyer to advertise the event.
  • Emphasize that lunch is included.
  • Create a guest list but expect drop-ins.
  • Be flexible with starting time.
  • Make your presentation as dynamic as possible and include guest speakers or group work.
  • Share personal stories of how your culture has affected your mental health.
  • Encourage guests to bring materials and brochures to share.
  • Give people resources to take home such as local mental health resources for families.
  • Offer guests the opportunity to give you feedback on the presentation by handing out an evaluation form at the end of the presentation.

When asked what they found most valuable about the symposium and why, some attendees shared the following:

  • “The information about access and barriers, learning about individuals’ experiences with various organizations and the systems in place. Community Collaborations”
    — United Way of Lane County
  • “Learning about NAMI and all the information regarding mental health in minority communities”
    — Sexual Assault Services of Lane County
  • “The presentation in general is very useful for my workplace”
    — Brattain House (Resource Center for Families in Springfield Oregon)
  • “[Small group discussions] provided information and the opportunity to share with others.”
    — Communities Health Centers of Lane County

The Hope Starts with You Symposium worked for both our affiliate and our community. Simple and dynamic, it allowed people to start the conversation on this important topic. I recommend you analyze what works best for your community and ask for help from other agencies and then collaborate. After all, sharing hope is all that matters.

Pedro Pacheco Mendoza works for NAMI Lane County as the Latino Outreach Coordinator. He graduated from the University of Oregon in the Family Human Services program. He has been working with low-income families in Lane County for eight years. He loves NAMI and advocating for mental health issues in the community. 

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