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Helping Hispanics through the holidays


[Manasquan, NJ] December 12, 2001 - For some people, the upcoming holiday season is the "most wonderful time of year", but for many, this holiday season will be difficult and filled with sadness and loneliness. The events of September 11th and the recent crash of American Airlines Flight 587 will surely be felt this holiday season and play a role in adding to the holiday blues that many experience this time of year. The New Jersey Mental Health Institute, Inc., an outgrowth of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc., is encouraging everyone, especially those impacted by the tragic events to stay connected with their family, friends and colleagues. In addition, the NJMHI would like to remind everyone that we must keep in mind all the upcoming different religious and cultural holidays and how this may impact those around us. For example, the upcoming holiday season brings us Kwanzaa on December 26 and The Three King's Day on January 6, a day celebrated by numerous Hispanic groups, including people from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

"With many Hispanics impacted by the September 11th events, the recent crash of Flight 587 from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which killed over 250 people, many from the Dominican Republic, members of the Hispanic community should not be forgotten during the long holiday season," reports the project director for the NJMHI Changing Minds, Advancing Mental Health for Hispanics project. "Also, Hispanics have a tendency to underutilize mental health services due to numerous barriers," he added.

The Surgeon General's Report, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, and the supplement to this report, Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity reported findings that Hispanics as a whole tend to underutilize mental health services and are over-represented among the nation's vulnerable, high-need groups, such as homeless and incarcerated persons. With many factors already negatively impacting many members of this ethnic group, this holiday season may be worse than any in the past.

"With Hispanics being the fastest growing minority group in our country, being tremendously impacted by recent tragic events, and being over-represented among the nation's most vulnerable groups, we must take necessary steps to ensure that we spread the message of reaching out during these difficult times," says Debra Wentz, Ph.D., Executive Director.

The NJMHI is sensitive to the mental health needs of Hispanics and has been spearheading a project, entitled, "Changing Minds, Advancing Mental Health Issues for Hispanics". The project is being made possible by an educational grant from the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation and aims to address the nationwide lack of access to mental health and behavioral health services among Hispanics. The project aims to understand the belief systems of, and overcome barriers facing the at-risk Hispanic population in need of mental health services. The two-year anti-stigma and anti-discrimination project focuses on research, training, information dissemination, and evaluation as a means of increasing access to and quality of mental health services for Hispanics. The project will focus on the four largest Hispanic groups in the State of New Jersey as reported by the recent US Census and will ultimately develop and disseminate a nationwide training model, including a curriculum incorporating best practices for clinicians, that reflects the needs and cultural preferences of the Hispanic population.

"Hispanics must be aware that quality and financially accessible mental health services exist in their communities. They must also realize that it is acceptable to utilize mental health services if needed," reports the project director. Whatever the barriers are, events in our lives sometimes push us to need professional services. The mental health community is here to provide those services and is pleased to be able to do so.

This innovative project is one of many to come from the NJMHI, an organization based in Manasquan, NJ dedicated to promoting quality mental health services through policy development initiatives, training, technical assistance, research, data collection, best practice development, and anti-stigma and anti-discrimination campaigns.

For more information on the project and for interviews with either Dr. Debra Wentz, please contact the New Jersey Mental Health Institute, Inc. at 609-838-5488 ect. 292.