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Group battles stigma of mental illness among minorities

By Nkoyo Iyamba | Posted - Nov 4th, 2013 @ 9:22am

SALT LAKE CITY — Seeking treatment for mental illness can be a challenge when it's culturally unacceptable. But the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Utah is working to change that.

Mental health workers have been working to de-stigmatize mental illness within the Caucasian community. Among ethnic and minority communities, experts report an even greater stigma associated with mental disease to the point that it's taboo to even talk about it.

"The families know that there's something, and we take care of our own," said Jacqueline Aria-Gomez, founder of NAMI Latino de Utah.

That's the kind of attitude that keeps the Hispanic community and other ethnic groups from seeking treatment, said Gomez.

"With that mentality, they come into a brand new territory, a brand new culture, and a new language," said Gomez.

A 2013 World Health Organization study shows 85 percent of those who need mental health treatment in developing countries don't have access to services. NAMI Utah mental health advocates see some of those families rapidly calling Utah home.

"Let's be realistic. Even those that are here have a really hard time accessing services that they need and accessing it in a way that's culturally competent and in a language that is their native language," said Rebecca Glather, executive director of NAMI Utah.

The dialogue is changing with the younger generation. Victoria Gomez lives with mental illness. She speaks to groups around Utah to educate youth -- especially minorities -- that they should seek treatment for mental illness. She said she's living proof that treatment works. Gomez said youth are embracing her message through awareness campaigns and by seeking mental health services.

"If we want our community to come together to get the help that they need," said Victoria Gomez, "then the first step we need to take is to provide these things [services]."

Mental health workers said there are so many myths and misconceptions surrounding mental illness and suicide prevention that they find it difficult to start the conversations on seeking treatment.

"It's changing and there's a broader conversation now going on than we've ever seen before," said Glather. "We're encouraged by that but we have a long way to go."

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