“I was gradually going downhill,” he said, finally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a condition in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms — such as hallucinations or delusions — and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression. It affects one in 100 people.
Despite a hospital stay and medication, he still “wasn’t doing well” and attempted suicide three years later. That resulted in a second hospital stay and more medication.
“My parents, it was devastating for them to know that they had a son who is mentally ill, especially when it first surfaced,” he said. “They were shocked, because I led a normal life as a kid growing up, as a teenager.”
Daniel explained that his parents didn’t know what to do at first, because they moved to Northwest Ohio from Texas as migrant farmworkers. They were raising four children in Toledo as they sought to assimilate into the community.
Daniel stated he “went manic” in his mid-20s, going on shopping sprees and “always talking.” He checked himself into a hospital a third time, but started doing some research on his own after his discharge. Along the way he discovered a drug trial for Abilify and contacted his doctor.
“Those medications work wonders. For ten years I’ve been stable,” he said. “I now am able to express myself more. I no longer hold things in. If I’m doing this well on medication, I think other people can as well.”
Daniel plays the accordion and loves conjunto and Tejano music, traveling three times to San Antonio to attend the annual music festivals held there. He also does acrylic artwork in his spare time. While he still lives with his parents and is unable to work, Daniel leads what many would consider a normal life. He avoids stress, continues to seek professional help, and keeps educating himself to be his own best advocate.
“If I don’t tell you I’m mentally ill, you would not know,” he said. “That’s exactly why I’m kind of content with it. If God gave me this illness, it’s okay, because it’s invisible.”
Daniel wears a prominently-displayed cross on a chain around his neck. He stated his Catholic faith is very important to him, because he prays to “feel better.”
Latino families tend to shun mental illness and “keep it within the family” because of the social stigma associated with such conditions, according to Anita Martínez-Folger of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). But that long-standing tradition prevents proper diagnosis and treatment—so the organization is trying to reach out to those same families with an education and awareness campaign.
Mrs. Martínez-Folger herself struggled to help her husband cope when he began battling depression, despite leading a successful family business for years.
“With Latinos, it’s always been a hush-hush thing. We don’t talk about it,” she said. “I think it’s time in the Latino community to accept it, to talk about it, to educate ourselves about it. We are no different from anybody else.”
“I think it’s the public in general, but in Latinos, I think it’s worse,” said Daniel. “They don’t understand. They don’t understand what mental illness is. They don’t understand it’s an illness and not some kind of curse. We tend to be more religious. My family can’t really understand what I go through. My parents do, but only after taking care of me.”
Mrs. Martínez-Folger stated that Latino families traditionally seek the counsel of their priest or pastor in such situations.
“We always say pray for us or bless us or whatever,” she said. “That’s what’s been done all these years. They don’t know what else to do.”
“I think that’s the biggest thing—education about what mental illness is,” Daniel added. “I just believe people are born with it, it’s genetic. I didn’t do anything wrong to myself like drugs or alcohol or anything.”
But Mrs. Martínez-Folger stated priests and pastors are becoming more educated themselves and referring Latino families to professionals. She credited Father Juan Molina for his efforts in that direction.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said. “They’re not alone here at NAMI.”
Compariendo Esperanza (Sharing Hope) will be held at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 728 S. St. Clair, on Saturday, July 19, 2014, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The free, bilingual program will include individuals living with mental illness and their family members who will share personal stories and have an open dialogue with attendees to discuss how recovery begins with breaking that stigma. A free lunch will be served.
“I give Daniel and my family members (a lot of credit) for their courage, to humble themselves, going out and educating the community by telling their own story,” said Mrs.
Martínez-Folger. “It takes a lot of courage to go there, to put themselves out there to help break the stigma.”
NAMI of Greater Toledo also will host a 12-week education and support series which is scheduled to run Tuesday evenings at the Mayores Senior Center, 2 Aurora González Dr., 6-8:30 p.m. The confidential series is designed for family members and friends of those with mental illness, to help them gain insight, coping skills, and how to help them become advocates for their loved ones.
To pre-register for either event, interested parties can email Ms. Martínez-Folger at [email protected] or call 419.243.1119 ext. 25.