Last month I celebrated my 16th anniversary of moving to the United States. I have now lived almost half of my life here.
I still remember the day I came to this country. In one day of travel I went from Quito, Ecuador to Kirksville, Mo. I went from living in a city of more than a million people to a rural town of 15,000 and from 9,000 feet above sea level to 965 feet.
I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from high school and I could not wait to start my college experience. To be honest, I never thought I would stay here beyond my college years. But here I am.
I am one of the more than 50 million Latinos who live in this country. My story is just one of the many of people who have come to the United States from all over Latin America. We have come for many different reasons: fleeing wars and revolutions, seeking better economic opportunities, to advance our education and looking for a better future for our families.
Do these reasons sound familiar?
Like many who came before us—Germans, Irish, Italians and others—Latinos have come looking for the American Dream. In the process we have enriched and strengthened America through our backgrounds and our experiences. The road that brought as here may be different in some ways, but at the end, we have all come to love and become part of this great nation.
We share the same challenges as others—and in some cases additional ones. Mental illness is no exception. Latinos have similar rates of mental illness as the nation’s overall population. However, we face additional barriers to mental health care. Many studies underscore significant disparities in access and quality of mental health treatment.
Latinos, no matter their socio-economic status, receive some of the worst mental health care in our society. Imagine for a moment the bad, broken and convoluted mental health system that your own families have navigated. Now imagine it being much, much worst. That’s what my community faces.
This is one of the reason Latinos have joined NAMI: to help change this unacceptable reality. We have joined NAMI to help our community and to provide others the help and support they need to recover. We have joined NAMI to advocate for equality in access and quality of care and to improve care for everyone. Will you join us too?
Thankfully NAMI has created many resources both for Latinos and people working to engage our community. Our common experiences give us common cause.
Editor’s Note: Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories, One American Spirit
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