Participants in the symposium said there are misconceptions of mental illness, particularly in Latino communities. (Sabrina Zelaya | The Poly Post)

Mental health symposium seeks to erase stigma

Even today, there is a stigma against mental health that may exist due to a lack of education on the topic. On Nov. 13, the campus community was able to participate in “Demystifying Mental Health in Working-Class Latino/a Communities & Beyond,” a free workshop at the University Library that sought to shed light on the matter.

Professor Alvaro Huerta, who teaches ethnic and women’s studies, organized the event and was joined by expert panelists and guest speakers Dr. Antonieta Toriz, a care services coordinator and well-being coach at Cal Poly Pomona Counseling and Psychological Services; and Dr. Jeffery Cardenas, a psychiatrist at Olive View UCLA Medical Center.

Huerta said setting up this event was important because it was an opportunity to educate young people to help get rid of the stigma against mental health, especially in Latino communities. His passion stems from his family’s history of mental illness.

“The main thing is to educate young people about some of the stigmas behind mental illness and to provide medical facts from experts in the field that can debunk a lot of these myths,” Huerta said. “For me, it’s more education, demystifying it and having us to be more open-minded, but also informed, specifically in medical terms, to see solutions available.”

Participants in the symposium said there are misconceptions of mental illness, particularly in Latino communities. (Sabrina Zelaya | The Poly Post)

The event was recorded and uploaded to YouTube in an effort to reach more people besides those on campus.

“Specifically, in Latino communities where a lot of times there’s a lot of misinformation and cultural lack of education issues that prevent Latinos from seeking out support when they need it,” Huerta said.

Cardenas spoke about the stigma against mental health in families, mainly Latin American families and how important it is to open up conversations in one’s household.

“The more we learn about this as an issue and educate ourselves, the more we can help to destigmatize … we need to help each other normalize mental illness,” Cardenas said.

He said that the challenge in tackling the problem lies in a lack of education.

“When we don’t have the knowledge, we tend to make broad overgeneralizations, we tend to use prejudice, we tend to use other uninformed thinking,” he said. “I think the more we do these events and talk about it, we can destigmatize it.”

Toriz mentioned the mental health resources available on campus and how important it is to manage mental health while going to school.

“Integrated Care Network at CPP is here to support students in their well-being for personal and academic success,” Toriz said.

Huerta said there are a lot of misconceptions about mental illness.

“I don’t blame the communities themselves. I blame Hollywood and television, mass media and politicians and how they aren’t able to accurately portray people with mental illnesses in a positive way,” Huerta said.

He said media coverage of violent acts does not help, which is why education is so important.

“You always see a mass shooting and they think ‘it must be mental illness,’” he said. “They could be anti-Semitic, or they could be racist. There’re other motivations. There’s a misperception that people with mental illness are violent. Some are, but [they are] just like anyone else.”

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