Latino Mental Health Coalition to host “Mente Sana: Tools for the Church” Conference

By Bethie Timmons

The Latino Mental Health Coalition is a group of individuals who identified a need within the Latino faith community to address mental health issues occurring in the context of the church.  Many individuals go to their church leaders first when they are experiencing mental health concerns or family struggles and knowing how to serve people well in these difficult situations, beyond offering spiritual support, can be life-saving and life-changing.  Many individuals and families in the Latino culture do not talk about mental health due to fear of the stigma of being called “locos.”  There might be a lack of understanding of the signs or symptoms so feelings are dismissed.  Many in the Latino community have been taught that private “home” matters should not be taken outside the home.  Strong cultural traditions exist and it may be that someone in the family has sworn by the “jarabe the tia lupe” or VapoRub.  And although these might work for many illnesses, individuals need to be aware of the limitations.  Drinking tea for nerves to soothe oneself is good, but those nerves could be a sign of something more troubling.  In light of the current immigration focus of our nation many immigrants who might be here illegally and fear deportation may be hindered from being open about their health.  Also, many immigrants, whether legal or illegal, work independently or have low-wage jobs which affect their ability to get medical insurance.

Pastors are doing a great job in addressing spiritual concerns of their congregations but felt inadequately trained to handle mental health needs.  Their commitment to becoming informed about mental health issues including anxiety, depression, suicide prevention and substance abuse led them to reach out to Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work and Dr. Dennis Myers to gather pastors and mental health professionals in the community to assist in addressing this very important issue in their churches.

Pastor Ruben Andrade of Family of Faith Worship Center has led the charge and has been instrumental in engaging pastors and their congregations.  Last year the coalition hosted a conference at the Garland School of Social Work titled “Mental Health:  Tools for the Church.”  We hosted approximately 75 people and included breakout sessions, information tables identifying community mental health agencies and a panel made up of local pastors who spoke about the need for mental health awareness in their congregations. Our keynote speaker talked to the attendees about being a survivor of a family member who completed suicide.  Her presentation was powerful.  Attendees agreed that the conference was a big success and decided that an annual offering would benefit the community.  One attendee who was very inspired by the information shared at the conference went on to become a Mental Health First Aid Certified Trainer and is now working with Latino churches in South Texas.

The conference opened up conversation about mental health issues and provided pastors and other church leaders the opportunity to speak openly about mental health and the challenges of addressing this issue in their churches.  It was agreed that there is a stigma associated with mental health and while pastors are very aware of the challenges persons with mental health issues encounter, they were not sure about how to best address concerns in the context of the church.  The conference also provided pastors and church leaders the opportunity to connect with local community mental health providers and their referral process for connecting one of their parishioners.

The success of the conference provided an impetus to continue this important work among the Latino community through the coalition. We have provided additional training in the churches around mental health first aid, suicide awareness and prevention and our local chapter of NAMI has presented support information for families who care for individuals with mental health issues. We also identified the need for Spanish speaking counselors and have developed a presentation to recruit Latino college students into the counseling profession.  AND on August 5, 2017 at Baylor University’s  Diana R. Garland School of Social Work the coalition will host the 2nd annual “Mente Sana: Tools for the Church.” We are excited to continue this important conversation with a panel, workshops and a keynote speaker. To register for the conference which is free of charge go to

Growing up in El Paso, TX, my family and I had the distinct pleasure of living on the border and within sight of Juarez, Mexico. We took many trips to Juarez especially when family from other parts of the country visited to experience the culture and traditions of our sister city.  The marketplace and the grocery store where you could buy the best hard rolls was always a hit. The other opportunity for me to experience the rich Latino culture was spending time with my best friend and her family. I made it a point to show up at her house at dinner time so that I could partake in a regular staple of their family meals, homemade tortillas!  There is nothing like a homemade tortilla and if you have never experienced one you are truly missing out.  What was unique about her family was their strong cultural identification that included numerous family celebrations and their honor to the matriarch in the family, her grandmother.  I remember the grandmother as being a tiny woman with a soft voice who could silence a room with her words.  She only spoke Spanish so I did not know exactly what she was saying but understood that it was important and that you had to listen. The love and support that existed within this large extended family was something to envy. This family stood by one another no matter what.  Their faith community was also an integral part of their living and Sundays in this family was an all-day affair.  When a family member experienced a problem the rest of the family gathered and provided assistance or called in the priest to provide direction.  However, in looking back I can see how major difficulties were handled in isolation because one simply did not take problems outside of the family. It is through the coalition that we hope equip pastors and church leaders to encourage families to reach outside for help when needed.

Elizabeth (Bethie) Timmons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Director of Clinical Services at HOTRMHMR. She has lived in Waco for 32 years and has been involved in a variety of capacities with the children and families of McLennan County, providing therapy and support.  Her specialty includes trauma and mental health issues.

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