empowered and oppressed by the intricate ways in which parts of their identities connect."
Alejandra Romero, NAMI KDK's Spanish Program Coordinator, joins today's conversation. Pursuing her degree in Psychology at St. Augustine College, she is an experienced advocate for Spanish-speaking parents and mental health in the Latin community. She is a trained facilitator for Compartiendo Esperanza and our Connections and Family Support Groups. Alejandra brings lived experience with severe depression as an immigrant, Latina, LGBTQ+ individual, and a mother to our conversation.
“As immigrants, we are embarrassed to ask for help, not understanding the system and knowing anyone." Alejandra shares that when she first arrived in this country from Mexico, she did not know the resources available to her. Language was one of the biggest barriers. There were very few resources and services in Spanish. "Family Focus was my source of connection to start navigating the system in this country. They gave me and my family a lot of support. They connected me with many resources and helped me fill out applications to get assistance with insurance, food, and more. Family Focus was also my pilot school, where I started learning English and completed my GED."
Another barrier was not having private health insurance. "My daughters and I had Medicaid. They treat you differently when you have state health insurance." Alejandra and her family were forced onto long waiting lists and did not have the same treatment as others." I know this because I did not have the same treatment as I do now. I can much more easily advocate for myself. It is a huge difference." You need to advocate for yourself, but this is "very, very hard for a lot of people in the Latin community."
Alejandra greatly values her relationships with her two daughters, who both have severe depression. Her oldest daughter attempted suicide at age 14. Thankfully, her family found her on time and took her to the hospital, where they asked her questions and got "evaluated."
She didn't take "enough" pills, so they let her go. I was speechless; I couldn't believe it. I was so mad, frustrated, and sad. I said, 'No, my daughter is not okay.'" This moment gave me the courage NOT to be silent or afraid, to advocate for the best interest of my two daughters.”
"Being a good mom meant I was a pain for a lot of people. I didn't care. I was doing everything I could. Her attempt was in July for her to start therapy until October. I ensured my daughter left the hospital with a recovery plan. It wasn't easy, but I ensured she got the help she needed sooner and that someone who truly cared evaluated her correctly."
"I didn't know how to advocate as well that day as I do now." I interject, "You were a hero for your daughter, but you had to do that."
It is difficult for her that children experience mental health conditions. "It is really hard because I did the same."
Alejandra resonates with religion being helpful for some and not for others. Having grown up in a religious Catholic family,
“I do believe in God. I believe God loves every single one of us. I believe that having a connection with God really helps connect us to our hearts - not necessarily to church.”
It wasn't until a few years ago, as she heard sermons about abortion and same-sex couples, that she "began getting furious and thought I am here, I am a good person, I believe in God, but I am not welcome here."
She emphasizes, "I confessed three times." The Father at a Latin church told her, "No, you cannot eat the Eucharist" if you are gay or divorce because you are living as a sinner. Her wife, she says, is devoutly religious, loves the church, and doesn't care about others' opinions. A Father at a different church said that if you're divorced, in a free marriage, or gay, you cannot eat the Eucharist. This causes her a lot of pain.
"Why do you say all are welcome when we are not all welcome? For a long time, I was very mad at religion - at the hypocrisy. So I left the church for many years.”
But, when she has extremely low days, "I know I need God - know deep in my heart that God loves each one of us. I believe that everyone should be welcome to church. We don't need to be ashamed of who we are. But I do respect and value the opinion of others. I disagree with Catholic rules, but I do respect them."
"What will help me right now?" she asks, as a person who has suffered from severe depression since childhood. "I know how to cope with my depression; I know that there are bad days, but they don't last forever. To sustain my mental health, I run daily for 30 minutes, which helps me clear my mind and feel great about myself. I am learning to practice mindfulness in my morning routine, but I love practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude also helps me see the beauty of life and humanity. Sometimes I cry because it helps me to clean my heart when it feels heavy."
"I can really help with my experience." Alejandra recognizes the value of sharing lived experiences, including with moms supporting children who experience mental illness symptoms. She is grateful that mothers have shared that they feel less alone and find what she shares in groups helpful.
"Be empathetic, have compassion. Be kind and understanding. The world is terrible right now. You don't know what it is like - what others are going through. My purpose is to be a good, kind human and to make a difference."
"Just as Family Focus and other organizations helped me when I arrived in this country, I dreamed of working in an organization where I could help the Latino community. My dream came true. I can help my community by offering them FREE mental health services in Spanish, like educational classes, community presentations, and support groups. And depending on their needs, I can connect them with additional resources. Thank you, NAMI KDK, for allowing me that opportunity as a Spanish Program Coordinator."
"I want NAMI KDK to be a place where the community feels heard, accepted, valued, and safe. But above all, to let them know that they are NOT alone."
Check out Alejandra’s Salud Mental en la Comunidad Latina blog.
NAMI KDK helps fill the mental health resource gap in Illinois's Kane-south, DeKalb, and Kendall counties. We provide free support groups, education, a resource guide, advocacy opportunities, and community presentations. We recruit staff and interns that look like and represent our community. NAMI KDK has support groups for those experiencing symptoms (Connections) and those who support those experiencing symptoms (Family and Loved Ones). We have Spanish-speaking Connection and Family support groups and programs and support groups specifically for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
The views and opinions expressed in these conversations are those of the guests and host and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of NAMI KDK, Interfaith America, or any entities they represent or with which they are associated.