Since then, Ms. Rodríguez, who was recently appointed to the Ohio board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), has been an advocate for educating people, especially the Latino community about mental illness. It’s a challenge she is very passionate about. She follows the appointment of Adrianne Kolasinski, sales manager of La Prensa, based in Toledo.
“It’s still such a taboo subject in Latino households,” said Ms. Rodríguez. “My parents and uncles and aunts they never understood it. They thought it was just life’.
“They would tell me, “Just deal with it.”
Ms. Rodríguez did just that in she and her daughter attended an educational training session hosted by NAMI in 2002. It was during this session that mother and daughter began to understand that their severe depression was a form of mental illness. The women also realized that many people in their family suffered from the same thing.
Nilda and Alanna supported each other emotionally as they learned how to deal with their illness. When Alanna died from leukemia in 2006, Nilda could have relapsed and spiraled back into depression. Instead, she’s dedicated her life to helping others overcome their mental illness.
“That’s why I’m so excited to be serving on NAMI’s Ohio state board,” said Ms. Rodríguez. “I want to make Alanna proud of me by being a strong advocate for other Latinos in Toledo.
“Many of the people in NAMI mean well, but they are stuck in offices all day; they don’t know what’s happening out her in the trenches. I’m out there in the trenches; I know what’s going on.”
According to a recent report by the National Institute of Mental Health, Latina teenagers in the United States are the group most likely to seriously consider suicide associated with depression.
Less than one in 11 Latinos with mental disorders contact’s mental health specialists and less than one in five informed primary care providers, according to the report. A 2011 Surgeon General study discovered that only 24 percent of Latinos received appropriate mental health care, compared with 34 percent of Caucasians. The statistics for undocumented immigrants, even if their children are United States citizens, are even worse, said Ms. Rodríguez.
“We have immigrants who are afraid to seek help because they are afraid of being deported,” said Ms. Rodríguez, noting the severity of the issue. “We have Latinos who are still ashamed to seek help. We have other kids whose parents won’t let them go out and play and develop positive relationships.
“We have children and adults out there hanging themselves, overdosing on drugs; young girls are lying with guys, who pass along sexually transmitted diseases; and they’re having children and they are not prepared to take care of them – all because they are so desperate for love.”
Ms. Rodríguez’s board appointment is for three years and can be renewed. During the next three years she wants to try and forge partnerships with existing mental health agencies, continue to educate the Latino and non-Latino communities about mental illness and lobby on behalf of northwest Ohio communities to obtain more grant dollars to treat mental illness.
Another major goal is to educate mental health agencies about the importance of providing culturally relevant services to Latinos – treating mental health isn’t a “one size fits all,” she said.
“I know I’m where the Lord wants me to be,” she said. “I can get into the doors of Latinos before most Gringos do. You just need to get the ear of a comadre to get things rolling.”
Nilda served as a volunteer for NAMI of Greater Toledo for several years. In 2011, she was hired as the local organization’s Hispanic Outreach Liaison for two years. She has appeared on a Point of View documentary about anti-stigma and mental health for PBS, spoken out for Medicare mental illness reform at the Columbus Statehouse. She was the featured speaker at the 2012 Anti-Stigma Sleep-Out rally in Columbus.
Om the Internet: www.namiohio.org