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Expansion of Education Programs Ensures Recovery for All

By Brendan McLean, NAMI Communications Coordinator

Ramon Castro of Philadelphia has worked in the mental health field for over 20 years. He has devoted much of his life to helping individuals learn about mental illness and improving the lives of individuals who have experienced it. Every day he educates and teaches people in his community know that mental illness is an illness like any other, an illness that anyone can develop, regardless of who they are.

Helping any group of people learn about mental illness is not an easy task, but for Ramon, a member of the Latino community, it is often an even greater challenge. While the stigma of mental illness in American culture still exists, it has begun to wane. The stigma in Spanish-speaking communities, however, has remained pervasive as ever.

“They don’t treat mental illness as an illness, they say you are being lazy don’t want to work. They say you are pretending,” said Ramon. “There is a serious lack of information.”

Ramon and many others from around the country came together in St. Louis this past October to learn from NAMI how best to help their own communities learn about mental illness.

Ramon noticed that some people who were attending the training seemed apprehensive when they first arrived. “People were unsure of what to expect. If they would really learn anything,” he said. “But everyone left with a big smile on their face.”

In recent years, NAMI’s programs have been translated into Spanish in an effort to reach a population that has lacked adequate resources. Training for three of NAMI’s classes, NAMI Family-to-Family (de Familia a Familia) and NAMI Connection (Conexión NAMI) and Parents and Teachers as Allies, were offered at the national training event.

Everyone had his or her own personal story or motivation for attending the national training event. For Jose Frinco, also of Philadelphia, it was the experience of sharing his own story of recovery.

“I attended an event where you tell your own story in hopes of helping others, which lasted only two hours. I could only imagine what could be done in three days,” said Jose.

The experience that the attendees gained was invaluable. Instead of merely receiving help, they can now lead the discussion and path to recovery. They feel empowered.

“By attending this training, I will be on the other side of the table; I will go from audience member to facilitator,” Jose said. “I will no longer just take but give back to the community.”

“I took a leap of faith in coming and I can now help people who do not have a voice,” said Jose.

Ramon agreed. “This will help the people who are in recovery. There are a lot of them out there who seek the help, and they can’t find it. With this training, we will be able to help them. This training will help get the support out there to those who truly need it,” he said.

Holding a national training event not only allowed members of the Latino community to learn methods of education but also discover that individuals from all around the country were experiencing many of the same difficulties. This experience they shared and connection they formed, Ramon said, would result in what he believes will be lifelong friendships.

Each of the program training sessions offered may have different target audiences, but they all have the same goal: to educate and bring hope to all those involved. Whether it’s informing teachers on ways to address mental health needs in school, or comforting family members about a loved one’s illness, the programs provide an irreplaceable tool.

“The Hispanic community is a growing community, and we have shown we have the same mental health issues as everyone else, but lack the resources to get the information out there and the resources we need,” said Ramon. “Through NAMI and trainings such as this, we are providing the opportunity to help them on their road to recovery.”

Each year NAMI offers regional and national training sessions for it’s Spanish-language programs, as well as the English-language versions. Contact for information on when the next training session will be held.

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