There Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of
Working to Reduce the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Issues
Healthcare professionals agree that good mental health is essential to personal well-being. Yet, we continue to see disparities in the accessibility of mental health services for certain groups. At Side by Side, we’re taking a proactive approach, working together to ask the right questions, listening to what our youth need, and meeting them where they are.

One common barrier in the Latinx community is a general distrust of medication, which can prevent youth from receiving medications prescribed for anxiety and depression. One solution? “Bilingual parent workshops,” says You Thrive Program Manager Adrian Maldonado, “that educate parents and also to create a supportive group environment for them, similar to the camaraderie shared by our youth.”

Latinx are the largest growing ethnicity in Sonoma County, yet reports show that they are the community that least seeks out mental health services. Maldonado recently piloted a program around reducing the stigma associated with mental health services for middle school Latinx youth in Healdsburg thanks to a grant from the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation. “The process of sharing experiences, successes, and solutions provides a sense of unity and that there is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Maldonado.

But beyond individual therapy and group support, Maldonado believes that there are many paths to healing. Pre-pandemic, YouThrive sponsored convivencias, gatherings where participants enjoyed traditional recipes, played cultural music, and shared stories from childhood. “In the Latinx community, food is a way of dealing with stress, coping, and expressing love and caring for one another. These cultural gatherings really fostered a sense of community and pride, which offers healing on a different level.”

Our Space program manager Diego Basdeo Fitzgerald uses a similar approach. Instead of immediately referring a troubled LGBTQIA+ youth to therapy, “Sometimes, we just sit with them. We allow space to build rapport and trust, and that often leads to the youth opening up. At that point, they might accept a referral to Community Counseling,” says Basdeo Fitzgerald. “But first it’s essential to build trust.”
Our TAY Space program for transitional age youth focuses on acceptance and de-stigmatization. Erica Antonio, TAY Space clinical supervisor and case manager, says, “We focus on whole person care with emphasis on enhancing the youths’ strengths and facilitating empowerment. We stress that their diagnosis is just one part of them and that it can be treated and recovery is possible.”
Parental feelings of shame and guilt create another common barrier to access. According to Larry Woodland, Director of Clinical Practice at Side by Side, “When their kid is diagnosed with a mental health issue, their parents hear ‘I’m a bad parent. I did something wrong and now my kid needs these services.’”

“Somehow the phone feels heavier when it’s being used to call a therapist versus a teacher,” says Irene M. Hunt School’s Lead Clinician, Bryanne Guthrie. But increased outreach to family units during the pandemic have facilitated stronger bonds between parents and clinical staff, breaking down barriers that may have existed previously because of shame or fear. Across all of our programs, the additional outreach to parents and caregivers has created similar results.

Youth are living in a stressful world with cyber-bullying, climate-related disasters, and a pandemic that has disproportionately affected many of their communities. At Side by Side, we are working diligently to ask the right questions, listen to our youth, and break down the barriers to accessing mental health services so that our youth can feel supported on their journey.  
As the combined challenges of this year continue to ripple through our communities and into our holiday season, we hope to have your additional support.

Shop for your friends and family at Boon Supply and 40% of your purchases will be donated directly to Side by Side.

Or, support our Holiday Wishes program that helps ensure that every Side by Side client has a present to open this year.