“Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.” -Margaret Thatcher
This past Tuesday, October 10th was World Mental Health Day, which focuses on raising awareness about mental health concerns around the world to ultimately mobilize efforts to support mental health. While I know I don’t have to state the obvious, we are nearly in 2018—a time in history where technology is at a forefront and medical procedures are becoming much more advanced. Regardless of the progression taking place in certain fields such as technology and medicine, mental illness is still a concept that remains stigmatized in many, if not most countries across the globe—including ours.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5%) suffer from a mental illness each year and approximately 450 million people around the world are currently suffering with a mental health issue (NIMH, 2015). Only 41 percent of adults with a mental health condition received help and just over half (50.6 percent) of children ages 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year (SAMHSA, 2014).
In 2010, the CDC reported that 57 percent of all adults believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness. However, only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness. While efforts have been made to reduce and eliminate the stigma towards mental health, as a society, we are far from attaining this goal.
Time and time again, I have heard individuals say that people “should” be able to deal with “tough times” on their own. The response is simple. If you were to fall and sprain or break your leg, would you seek medical care or “should” you be expected to deal with this “tough time” on your own? Should you just walk it off until everything is better? That’s not a viable or realistic solution, and if we can understand and accept the significance that mental health plays in our daily lives, similarly to medical health, we can each work to break this stigma.
In life, we often find that the act of being vulnerable (to an extent) leads to the attainment or accomplishment of goals. Or at least, it puts us in the direction of doing so. For example, when searching for jobs, we find ourselves engaging in a state of vulnerability as we partake in job interviews—often a scary process for many. Asking somebody out on a date requires a level of vulnerability, as you cannot ensure the outcome you would like. Trying a new restaurant when you already have your top three go-to places also involves being vulnerable because you have no idea whether or not you’ll enjoy the food and dining experience.
So just what happens when we take this step into vulnerability? Well, for starters, you find out in the job interview if the company is the right fit for you, and vice versa. You have the opportunity to analyze the interview and note what went well and how you can improve for future job interviews. When you engage in vulnerability and ask somebody out, there’s the possibility that the person will say yes. Of course, there’s the possibility that the person will say no, but you may never know what their answer is unless you ask. And as for the restaurant, you may end up with a new favorite dish and/or dining spot, or you may realize you never want to go back there again. But we won’t be able to attain these answers and knowledge if we don’t at least try something new.
So when we look at mental health and discussing our own personal mental health, yes, this is another experience in which vulnerability may likely be required. It can be uncomfortable to openly discuss what has been going on in our lives and how that has been affecting us. It can be challenging to freely discuss how we are feeling when it seems as though preconceived notions on the part of others may constantly be present. And it can seem impossible to honestly discuss when we aren’t doing too well. But this is how we break the stigma. We have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is playing our part and finding the courage to be more open regarding our mental health.
Promoting a greater level of mental health starts by speaking up. We cannot expect to break a stigma that has been around for centuries if we don’t practice what we preach. While I can attest that at times, this is easier said than done, what is it that we have to lose? By confiding in a confidant, we allow ourselves the opportunity to be heard. We give ourselves a change to really explore how we are doing without censoring ourselves. And we let ourselves be supported—another act of vulnerability.
Can we overcome “tough times” on our own? Honestly, who cares? Strength can be found within each of us, and overcoming challenging life obstacles by oneself doesn’t define personal strength. Personal strength can often be found in reaching out for a helping and supporting hand. There is strength in numbers, and if we can create and foster a support system and find the courage to open up, we can begin to break the stigma of mental health, while working on and maintaining our own mental health as well.
By no means is this a clinical perspective for anyone dealing with mental health concerns. This is more along the lines of what we can do to break this stigma. Should an individual find themselves in need of help, open up to a confidant and let them know what is going on. If they don’t listen, find somebody else. And if it is an emergency, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1. Know there is a plethora of mental health professionals who are here to listen. Collaborating with a mental health professional to receive treatment and accomplish any goals one sets for themselves is always going to be an option. We just have to be vulnerable by taking the first step.
There is one designated day in the calendar set aside to focus on mental health. (Granted, I missed that day, but I guess it’s better late than never). It is up to us to ensure that we focus on mental health everyday so that being vulnerable and honestly discussing how we are doing is something people can take pride in. We will be the ones who set the standards for how future generations view mental health. But in order for any change to happen, it must start with us.
Below are just a few of many available mental health resources:
We began today (two days ago, July 4th) with a course on Spanish for the mental health setting. Since my schedule changed, Tuesdays are a bit slower for me, so I spent the day catching up on homework, going to the gym, and going for a run. We decided to get in as much exercise as possible before feasting out on burgers in honor of July 4th.
Not every country has the same rights and privileges as we do, and while things could always be better (just like anything in life), we must not forget to take pride in where we come from when we are blessed with so many privileges. But of course, we should never settle. We can and should always do more to make our society better for everyone—especially underserved and marginalized populations. Since today (two days ago) is a holiday, I’ll let you celebrate by keeping this post short. Cheers, to independence.
This afternoon, we participated in Trujillo’s Marcha por el Orgullo LGTBI (Lesbianas, gays, trans, bisexuales e intersexuales) in honor of Día Internacional del Orgullo Gay. The energy and feeling of overall love and acceptance at the march was truly beautiful and inspiring. Same sex marriage in Peru is still not legal, and alongside women and persons with disabilities, members of the LGTBI community are one of the most mistreated collective groups of individuals in the country.
One of the many posters that stood out to me was, “Porque mis amigos no pueden tener los mismos derechos que yo?,” which translates to “Why can’t my friends have the same rights as me?” Another meaningful poster that caught my attention was “Mi amor no es el problema. Tu odio, si,” which translates to, “My love is not the problem. Your hate is.” The parade was filled with members of the younger generation, and every so often, you could see an adult with a small child on their back carrying a pride flag alongside a trans pride flag.
The organizers of the march hosted a talent show afterwards, which showcased incredible local talent of children, adolescents, and adults—all of whom united as one for this important cause. A man and his mother attended the march and show together, and were asked to come on stage so that the mother could share her message of love and support to all of the children in the audience. One performer professed her love to her partner, and dedicated a song to her. One teenager in particular sang a song titled, “A quién le importa” by Thalía, and the impactful words really resonated on this powerful day. Part of the song (and a rough translation) can be found below.
Me apuntan con el dedo; They point to me with their fingers
Susurra a mis espaldas; They whisper behind my back
Y a mi me importa un bledo; And I couldn’t care less
Que mas me da; What more can I give
Si soy distinta a ellos; Yes, I am different from them
No soy de nadie; I do not belong to anyone
No tengo dueño; I do not have an owner
Me consta que me odian; I know they hate me
La envidia les corroe; Their envy corrodes
Mi vida les agobia; My life overwhelms them
Porque sera; Because it will be
Yo no tengo la culpa; It is not my fault
Mi circunstancia les insulta; My circumstances insult them
El que yo elijo para mi; It’s what I choose for me
A quien le importa lo que yo diga?; To whom is it important what I say?
Yo soy así, y así seguiré, nunca cambiare; I am like this, and so I will continue. I will never change
A quien le importa lo que yo haga?; To whom is it important what I do?
A quien le importa lo que yo diga?; To whom is it important what I say?
Yo soy así, y así seguiré, nunca cambiare; I am like this, and so I will continue. I will never change.
As we marched As we marched by a church, we received nothing but harsh stares and glances from church-goers. By the time we made our way back to the church on our second lap of the plaza, one church-goer grabbed a pride flag and waved it back and forth. Love and acceptance isn’t as hard as so many people make it out to be, and as one person yesterday mentioned, “Una no necesita ser gay para apoyar la unión civil, solo ser humano,” or “You don’t have to be gay to support civil union. You just have to be human.” And as Mother Teresa stated, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
No matter how unfair the laws may be or the maltreatment that so many experience on a daily basis due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the march continues, and it is one of pride because everyone should be proud of who they are. And if society could only find a way to embrace acceptance, the world would truly be a better and more loving place for all.
We had an hour or so of down time in between seeing Casa Azul and an afternoon excursion. For our afternoon excursion, we drove to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, which is a mud volcano located in Santa Catalina, Bolívar, in the northern part of the country. The mud volcano is forty-five feet high, so it’s a small hill to walk up upon arriving. However, the volcano is 6,000 deep, but the catch is that the mud is three times more dense than one’s body density, so even though the volcano is so deep, you float in the mud.
Volcán de Lodo El Totumo has been around for between fifty to sixty years. Some individuals were claiming that the mud had healing powers, and since there was so much violence in the area, the government gave the land to locals and had the locals test the mud to see what was in it. Results showed that the mud contains sulfur and various other minerals, and it is said that the mud has helped people with different types of cancer, people with acne, and that it helps soften skin too. And if you’re concerned about the cleanliness of the volcano (as we were), there is constant circulation inside the volcano, so the mud used by a few individuals changes every few minutes with the circulation.
Companies wanted to buy the land and build hotels and restaurants in the area to increase tourism and bring in more money, but the community said no because it’s their land and they take great pride in it. The land in the area is all very natural, and only locals or relatives of locals are allowed to work here.
When we arrived to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we were quite skeptical about what we got ourselves into. We climbed up a small hill with steep steps and a wooden railing on the side that we held onto for dear life. Once we got to the top of the volcano, we looked down and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had to climb down a small, and also steep ladder into the volcano, where we drenched ourselves with mud. From there, a local who works at the volcano took us and moved us to the corner. While in the corner, we were passed off to another individual who works here, and received a mud massage, alongside fifteen other individuals who can fit into this mud bath at the same time. After our five-minute massage, we were passed off to a different corner of the mud bath, where we had ten to fifteen minutes to float and relax, while continuing to cover ourselves with mud.
Once we got out and climbed down the hill, we were told to walk to the lake behind the volcano. When we got to the lake, local women held our hands and walked us into the lake. From there, we were instructed to remove our bathing suit (while under the water), as the local women scrubbed the mud out of our clothing. They also helped get the mud out of our hair and from behind our ears. Once we redressed under the water, and returned to the bus to leave, I noticed just how clean my bathing suit now was, and was extremely impressed with the abilities of these women!
To say that this was quite the experience is an understatement, but it just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Although we were iffy about getting into the mud volcano at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we ended up having a blast, and knowing that we were able to help support a local, hard-working community and participate in something they take much pride in, was great, too. Besides, we came out with a fun story to share with others!
“May we grow in strength—without pride of self. May we, in our dealings with all people of the earth, speak the truth and serve justice. May the light of freedom, coming to all darkened lands, flame brightly—until at last the darkness is no more.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Yesterday, I wrote about Boca Azul in Cartagena, Colombia. Boca Azul is supported by Foundation Casa Italia, and it is a school in La Boquilla that serves more than 300 of the poorest children who are in the need of the most help. The children who attend Boca Azul are between the ages of 1 to 14 years old and receive a full-time education, school support, one meal per day (which makes this the only place in the city for children to receive a free meal), first aid and medical attention, and after school activities. While taking a tour of Boca Azul, some of the students put on a show for us, and as you can see based on the picture below, they performed traditional dances of the area. The students pictured below are some of the most hardworking students in the school with the highest grades, and as a reward, they are able to learn the traditional dances. They took so much pride in their performance, and as you can imagine, it was a beautiful sight to see.
Upon waking up in the morning, we began our day by heading out to La Boquilla, a fisherman village in Cartagena where individuals from class zero and class one live (the two lowest socioeconomic classes in the city). La Boquilla is considered to be a fisherman village because the main activity for locals here is fishing. Fishing is so great in this area because the ocean is connected to the swamp, so local fisherman are able to catch fish from both areas of water. If you were to go to the village at 5:30am, you could purchase caught fish that are still alive, swim in the local water, and go prepare your freshly caught lunch.
There is a lot of construction taking place around La Boquilla, especially the building of hotels, so the locals have worked out a deal with the government. The deal is that hotels building around La Boquilla must employ 20 percent of their staff from the area. In addition, the must either feed these individuals once a month, or educate them in order to help give back to this community.
La Boquilla is known for having the biggest natural reserve in Cartagena. Mangroves here grow up and down, similar to the path of a circle. This is because when the mangrove grows downwards, it creates a new mangrove tree that continuously repeats the process. You can also tell the color of the mangrove by looking at the bottom of the trunk. The colors can be black, red, or white.
Something interesting about La Boquilla is the fact that numerous members of the community come together to raise money for one another and for their neighborhood. This is evident in the fact that some members make the canoes by hand, others row the canoes when tourists come to town, and a select few are in charge of organizing visits from tour groups in Cartagena. These canoe rides, offered on what is called a bote canoa chalupa (or small canoe boat), are a main source of income to the locals in La Boquilla, and they take great pride in the work that they collectively do.
In 1986, Mami Leo answered a call from God to pack her belongings and move to Guatemala to help abandoned, abused, and malnourished children. With $2,700 raised by her and her prayer group, and faith that the Lord would guide her, Mami Leo devoted nearly thirty years of her life living in the mountains, nourishing, educating, and loving countless Guatemalan children in need. Over the next month, I’ll be highlighting a lot of incredible accomplishments that helped countless children in need, all thanks to one valiant and dedicated woman, Leonor Portela.
Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Ernesto Townsen, a Guatemalan businessman, the Sagrado Corazon School was opened on site in 2000. This elementary school has since provided an education, uniforms, school supplies, and transportation for children from the surrounding areas. The Sagrado Corazon School also has a marching band, which consists of numerous students with immense talent. To date, the band has won countless awards and has not only made the city proud, but they have made us proud as well. The school not only provides children an opportunity to receive an education and learn to become active members in a society that might not have allowed for such an education, but it instills confidence in each and every child in attendance. And the band gives the children a chance to learn a new skill and take pride in a talent they would have otherwise not knew existed.
A preview from the Sagrado Corazon’s Marching Band practice can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/k9w2bkg