Latino Community Addresses Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

Ana Lazu, founder of Latinos Unidos Siempre, a nonprofit organization that unites Latinos to help them gain access to mental health and addiction treatment, received the 2005 Welcome Back Award for her contribution to cultural sensitivity in the treatment of depression, MedPage Today reported on May 24.

The award, sponsored by Eli Lilly, includes a $10,000 contribution made on Lazu's behalf to Latinos Unidos Siempre and to the Josie Romero Scholarship Fund of the National Latino Behavioral Health Association.

Lazu, who is also currently a newspaper columnist and an active member of several community boards, was once unable to seek treatment when she suffered from depression, because “as a Latina, I didn't believe in mental illness,” she said. Conditioned by her culture to believe that her depression was a result of witchcraft and that psychological treatment was a scam, she faced “a double stigma — the stigma of mental illness and the shame that I felt from my culture.”

In 1995, Latinos Unidos Siempre “started with five people meeting in my kitchen, just a small group brought together by culture and illness,” said Lazu. “In our culture, the kitchen is the center of the home and the family. We met there to build a new family.”

The group then grew to a gathering of 50 people at a local Unitarian Church, and today has its own space at the offices of the Southeast Mental Health Agency in Norwich, Connecticut.

One outreach project that Lazu coordinates through Latinos Unidos Siempre is Primos, a training program that teaches students “how to overcome the cultural and language barriers so that they can secure quality care for themselves.”

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