This week’s Latina Spotlight is on Xiomara A. Sosa, mental health professional, mental health advocate and founder of the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network. As a Latina, a veteran and a mental health professional, Xiomara has dedicated her career to ensuring that often underserved populations, such as the Latino community and U.S. veterans, receive the mental health information and care that they deserve. New Latina has partnered with Xiomara and the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network to promote education, awareness and advocacy for the mental health services needs of U.S. Hispanic communities. We are so very proud to share Xiomara’s story with you all and we encourage you to learn more about the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network.
Congratulations on launching, the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network (HMHP) this fall. Tell us, what inspired you to establish this incredible network?
Thank you! All my life I’ve been involved in mental health on one level or the other, for personal or professional reasons. I’m Hispanic, I’m a mental health professional, and I’m intensely dedicated to advocacy and to promoting positive social change. In my journey, I’ve found it difficult to connect with other Hispanics in that arena. I’ve also been stunned at the ridiculous amount of unfounded and perpetuated stigma associated with mental health issues. I want to connect people who have this gift of healing and to break down all those walls of negative stigma in the process. I wish I would have had that kind of a support network of my own peers, much like brethren have, available to me during my journey to where I am now. But sadly I did not.
I worked for a nonprofit at the start of my career in this field where I felt the Latina leader “in charge” should have and could have been my mentor and supporter in all I yearned to achieve; to help by supporting me in reaching my full potential in the mental health field. However, I experienced the exact opposite when I tried to spread my wings and achieve my aspirations, goals, and full potential. Instead what I experienced was someone who went out of her way to hold me back and keep me “in my place”. I vowed to break past all that and do it all anyway – achieve my dreams, and when I did, to create a network that would provide to all other Hispanics in the mental health field the very thing I was not allowed to have access to. HMHP is the start of fulfilling that vow for other Hispanics, especially Latinas, who have a calling and passion for mental health and the healing field.
What is the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network’s (HMHP) mission?
HMHP’s mission is to promote education, awareness and advocacy for the mental health services needs of U.S. Hispanic communities. HMHP’s vision is to create a well-established, organized, active, and strongly connected community of Hispanic mental health professionals by improving culturally relevant communication and advocacy for the mental health needs of the Hispanic community.
Why is the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network (HMHP) important for the Hispanic community?
This initiative is vital for us; advocacy for Hispanics is essential because Hispanics are challenged with access to and disparities in health and human services, particularly in mental health services. Cultural attitudes influence use of these services because among the culture conditions such as clinical depression are believed to be nervousness, fatigue, or another physical health issue that will pass. Hispanics rely heavily on traditional healers, faith groups, and extended family to get through a mental health crisis rather than seeking professional help. Studies have found that patients who are bilingual are evaluated differently when interviewed by a monolingual health care provider and are more likely to be undertreated. Other barriers they face to mental health prevention, intervention and treatment include cost, lack of awareness and the negative stigma associated with seeking care. The lack of culturally relevant and appropriate services and intervention strategies add to those barriers. Increasing awareness about mental health and combating stigma by improving cultural competence through social change is an effective strategy in response to those barriers.
WHAT HMHP DOES AND WHY:
- Bilingual, culturally appropriate multi-platform advocacy campaign.
- Culturally appropriate online materials, publications, resources and events.
- Empirical-evidence based research data approach.
- Highlight mental health issues affecting Hispanic communities from a culturally appropriate perspective.
- Establish, organize, activate, connect, and support.
- Improve communication.
- Educate and inform.
- Articles series of Hispanic mental health professionals interviews for HMHP and NEW LATINA National Editorial Initiative.
- Spotlight unique challenges, needs, and stories of mental health in Hispanic communities.
- Elevate voices of Hispanic veterans from a positive and pragmatic perspective.
- Highlight Hispanic mental health professionals and mental health issues in a positive light to combat stigma.
- Spotlight Hispanic mental health professionals and Hispanic-serving organizations.
- Assemble and disseminate critical legislative, public policy, and mental health initiatives.
- Legislative Days with representatives to advocate for mental health services needs that are culturally appropriate.
- Town Hall meetings with community stakeholders, including mental health professionals, to educate and raise awareness.
Why have you chosen to partner with New Latina for this project?
New Latina’s leader, Angelica Perez, is one of the few Latinas in the mental health field who I believe has a vision that aligns with mine, which is to combat stigma, educate and empower people, improve the overall well-being of our communities, and make communication accessible, easy and relevant. I studied Angelica from afar for a while and all the work she does before I finally approached her with this project. I wanted to make sure that she and her social media platform really embodied the substance-over-style approach that is very important to me and my projects. Angelica herself promotes personal development and practices what she preaches. I found her work and mission to be genuine, effective, and doable. We both seem to share the same vision for and support of our community – we share an intense passion about seeing our communities succeed and be healthy and happy. I felt Angelica and New Latina were a perfect fit for HMHP. Unfortunately, many people jump on bandwagons and attach themselves for the flavor-of-the-month for the instant attention and glory of the moment, and I can’t stand that. I want to work with people who practice what they preach even when the attention and sexiness of an issue and all the spotlights have moved on to something new. Angelica and New Latina fit that ideal, which is so very rare, and I love it!
Before establishing the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network (HMHP), you founded “Get-Right and “You Are Strong”, two organizations dedicated to advocating for mental health for families and children, and veterans, respectively. What motivates your work in mental health advocacy? Why do you do what you do?
What motivates my work in mental health advocacy is that social change cannot happen without advocacy. People seem to be so incredibly misinformed about what mental health is. They associate all kinds of illness and evil with it that simply is untrue and incorrect. That prevents individuals from either seeking the support or starting their own personal journey to physical and mental wellness. It also prevents them from providing support to their loved ones who might need it. My goal is to get people to understand that prevention and intervention is the way to go in order to avoid having to seek treatment for a crisis that is preventable or manageable in the first place. We must start having fundamental conversation about our mental health and let go of stigma and instead get educated about it all. Normalize it. We as humans cannot be at peace and feel joy unless and until our fundamental mental health is taken care of as much as our fundamental physical health is.
Why I do what I do is very complicated and deeply personal. Because of that I am driven like a mad woman. In my private practice I work one-on-one with individuals and families on a myriad of issues. I launched my two nonprofits so that I can do my advocacy work and promote social change through them. Although I work with all communities, the three I specifically do culturally competent work with is the Hispanic community, the veteran community, and the sexual minority community (LGBQQTI).
The Get-Right! Organization, Inc. (Get-Right!)’s mission is to educate families, teach children, and support communities about mental health and physical health. This is the organization that I partnered with New Latina on for the National Hispanic Mental Health Professionals Advocacy Network (HMHP) initiative. I have a life-long history of working with families, children and communities on mental and physical health issues and this is my labor of love to continue and elevate that work. I come from a family filled with foster care children and I experienced many things that drew me to this mission. The one that sticks out the most is an uncle I visited in Puerto Rico when I was 16 years old who was completely physical and mentally disabled. When I saw the deplorable conditions he was living in and how incompetently he was being taken care of, it lit a fire in my soul and cemented my mission in life.
You Are Strong! Center on Veterans Health and Human Services, Inc. (You Are Strong!)’s mission is to combat stigma and provide health and human services information to veterans and their families. This project started in me when I experienced 9/11. I lived in DC at the time and was at the Pentagon that day. I was born and raised in New York City and my heart changed that day as I watched all the horror. I knew that day what the physical and mental damage would be for years to come from that event with our veterans. It was foreseeable. And I was right. I am a veteran and come from a family of generational veterans. I met my life-long love in basic training 29 years ago who has gone through 2 war zones, which include Iraq, and retired as a high ranking non-commissioned officer. It’s a labor of love for me to fight for all veterans and ensure that they recover, reintegrate and readjust to the healthy life they deserve without the stigma and misinformation they often face. You Are Strong! is the organization where I launched the National Hispanic Veterans Advocacy Network (NHVAN) in partnership with Latina Lista to address the health and human services needs of Hispanic veterans.
How has your identity as a woman, a Latina and a veteran enhanced or impacted the work that you do?
As I woman I feel driven to break barriers. I have two God-nieces I practically raised and I make it my business to be their positive role models so that they grow up to be strong, well put together young women. So far, mission accomplished! As a Latina I feel a burning need to break down the stereotypes and all the negative images we face. And I think I’m doing a pretty good job with that. As a veteran I feel that I belong to elite brethren that cannot be understood unless you have served your country. The visible and invisible wounds are indicative of that. I feel compelled to use my voice to articulate and advocate for the issues that other veterans are not in a position to do.
In what ways have you seen your work and organizations help others?
I’ve seen the younger generations embrace the importance of physical and mental health as well as health and human services. I’ve seen how they kick stigma to the curb and use their knowledge and voice to help themselves and others. This is magnificent because that is what they will teach the next generation by example. I’ve seen veterans kick stigma to the curb when they had lost all hope. Instead they reach out and find the help they need and are now strong advocates and example and what it looks like to take care of your mental health as much as your physical health. That has a ripple effect and it thrills me!
What professional challenges and successes have you experienced, so far?
The biggest professional challenge I have is staying the course to complete all of the licensure and credentialing work required in my field. It is a lot of hard work and sacrifice. It is very difficult. And it takes time. Sometimes it is almost as difficult as becoming a medical doctor, but it is all worth it. Each milestone in that process fills my heart even more. I would say my successes have been my educational accomplishments and the success of my private practice and nonprofits in such a short amount of time.
What is your advice to Latinas and Latinos seeking out mental health services?
My advice is so simple: do not focus on outdated labels and their negative, baseless stigma. It is pointless and makes no sense. Look at your mental health the same way you do with your physical health. Mental health is based on neuroscience for the most part.
Stand up to it,take a stand,be brave, say “so what?”, and just do it, get the help. When you have diabetes you take your insulin and do what you have to do; Look at any mental health issues the same way. You cannot have physical health without mental health, and vice versa.
What is your next big professional goal? What is your next big personal goal?
My next professional goal is to build my private practice with my forensic specialty. That will take another few years. I hope to branch out into the family court system and the Veteran Administration and military system even further. Prevention and intervention of bullying with sexual minority youth and suicide prevention and intervention with military and veterans is my next priority – stay tuned for those amazing upcoming campaigns.
My personal goal is to finish my practicum and internships so that I can finally get my licensure and start the next phase of my life with my one true love, my favorite veteran of 29 years!
What are HMHP’s plans for 2013?
In 2013 HMHP will launch its first Town Hall Meeting and Legislative Day, stay tuned!
Who can be a part of HMHP?
Anyone who supports our mission – Hispanic or not – mental health professional or not is welcomed to join us.
How can people get involved with HMHP or contact you?
People can get involved with HMHP by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and typing “HMHP” in the subject line. They can also “like” the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NHMHAN?ref=hl and join our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/groups/NHMHP/ They can also find more information on the website at http://www.get-right.org/?page_id=1520