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Home > Research Articles > Building A Network For Mentally Ill Hispanics

The Record, Bergen County, NJ

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

November 19, 2002

(The Record, Bergen County, NJ) -- For Latinos with mentally ill family members, the best support may come from others in the community struggling with the same problems.

"Most Hispanics want someone they can identify with, someone who has experienced it themselves," says Henry Acosta.

As director of Changing Minds, Advancing Mental Health for Hispanics, a project of the private, non-profit New Jersey Mental Health Institute, Acosta recently received a federal grant aimed at helping Latino families connect one another to services.

With some $150,000 for each of two phases of the grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Acosta will use a well-established educational program to reach Hispanic families in Bergen, Passaic, Hudson, Essex, Union, and Middlesex counties.

The Family-to-Family program, designed by the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill, offers people with sick loved ones 12 weeks of training. The idea is to educate a few about services so that they can spread the word to others in their communities. Acosta's grant will mark the first time the program is offered in Spanish to New Jersey residents.

"It's about building support systems," Acosta says.

There are few Spanish-language mental health programs available in the state, and many Latinos shy away from seeking help for their ill family members, he says.

"There's so much stigma about mental illness that they are even less likely to reach out for help than other populations," Acosta says.

To change that, he plans to enlist church groups, businesses, and community groups.

"The goal is to bring different systems together to make family education happen," he says. "If we don't build consensus and acceptance within the community, we won't reach those who need services the most."

Acosta will team with the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill in New Jersey on implementing the program.

"Hispanic families have a right to learn more about mental illness, how it affects their loved ones, and how they can be more supportive and productive in the care of that family member," says Sylvia Axelrod, New Jersey executive director of the alliance.

"We are hopeful that one day we will be able to implement these services statewide," she says.

Copyright 2002 The Record, Bergen County, NJ. All rights reserved.