Click here para español>> La salud mental en la comunidad latina
By Ana García
Speaking about issues relating to mental health has long been considered taboo in many societies, and in certain cultures, reaching out for help is unacceptable, regarded as a weakness, and talking to a mental health professional is not a priority.
Experts in the mental health field have been trying to normalize accessing professional services from counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists to help people understand that it is necessary in many cases. For example, in New Orleans, there is a counseling institution led by two Hispanic professionals who, with their dedication and passion, have made a difference in serving the community and changing the perception of mental health as a taboo by educating and helping those who need it most.
The New Orleans Multicultural Institute for Counseling (NOMIC) was founded in April 2018 by Dr. Jasmine Hernandez and Naomi Dugar. Dugar had the idea to open a counseling center while working at a school with Hernandez. They knew opening up a private practice demanded lots of time and dedication. Since Hernandez was busy pursuing her PhD., Dugar kept her dream alive and waited for the right time, and as soon as Hernandez finished her thesis, they opened NOMIC. “The best thing about us is that we complement each other. Her strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa. And that’s what makes this teamwork,” said Dr. Hernandez. “We got lucky; it is a perfect combination,” adds Dugar.
NOMIC’s goal is to provide services to low-income individuals. While working in different schools, Hernandez and Dugar realized that Spanish-speaking students lacked access to mental health services. “We just wanted to come up with something open to all cultures and genders, where they would get the much-needed mental health services.” Their idea was to be culturally confident and add a multicultural component to reach underserved populations.
NOMIC, located in Gretna, Louisiana, offers specialized services in different areas of counseling, such as individual, couples, and family counseling in areas of specialty, including anxiety, depression, trauma, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. In addition, they can also perform mental health assessments and immigration evaluations in legal cases of family petitions, visa renewals, and reunification. Thanks to their commitment to welcoming a diverse population in a comfortable environment and advocating cultural sensitivity, NOMIC recently received a contract in Orleans Parish to go into schools to provide services to children. In addition, the Louisiana Department of Education awarded them a grant about two years ago. This funding allows NOMIC to offer free-of-charge services to undocumented students, which enables families to access counseling services without the cost burden or the requirements for health insurance.
Dr. Hernandez was born in New Orleans to Honduran parents. She worked for ten years as a counselor in the educational system. In her experience, Dr. Hernandez has noticed how today’s youth are affected by factors like the pressure to fit into society, to live in a certain way, and to act a certain way, which according to Hernandez, creates a lot of anxiety and social problems. “Many times, young people go through a difficult time, and parents don’t understand the pressure their children go through in schools and the things they get exposed to, and that’s when they fall into depression and anxiety,” she points out.
For multicultural children, family dynamics can be challenging, affecting their mental health because they have to cope with living in a culture different from their family’s background and beliefs. In some instances, adults believe that anxiety and depression do not exist, which prevents children from accessing help at early stages. “The earlier they learn how to cope, the better they will do as adults. It is better to help them now than when they are adults.” The doctor knows children could experience anxiety and depression. Still, they do not know what to do, so parents should be open to allowing them to access these services where counselors can get resources for them.
Naomi Dugar was born in New Orleans to a Cuban mother and a Salvadoran father. As a professional counselor, she understands a delicate yet real issue that schools are experiencing today regarding mental health. As schools prioritize academics and discipline, Dugar believes mental health is essential to the services that schools should provide. “Academic performance is related to mental health, and children’s behavior is related to mental health. That’s why we need to find ways to provide mental health services in schools and be more aware of the issues children get exposed to nowadays,” says Dugar. She points out that communication between teachers, students, and counselors is fundamental since the role of a counselor is to advocate for the student. Regarding the Hispanic student population, Dugar understands there are not enough Spanish-speaking counselors to fulfill the needs, making it more challenging for the institutions. Bilingual teachers often get tasked with serving as a sounding board for students who need to be heard and helped in their language, which adds a burden to the already overworked teachers who do not have the proper training to counsel the children.
Though the need for mental health services and education is extensive, places like NOMIC are making a difference in our community which needs more bilingual counseling in schools. Thanks to professionals like Dr. Jasmine Hernandez and Naomi Dugar, mental health services are getting more acceptance in Latino and immigrant communities. Parents now realize that getting mental health help is not something bad.
Whether something is taking away your peace of mind, if you have noticed changes in your children’s behavior, or if you are unsure what could be preventing you from feeling like yourself, it is a good idea to reach out for help. A professional, someone neutral who can give you the proper feedback and resources and help you figure things out, is only a phone call away. For more information, you call 504.814.4480 or visit nomicllc.com.