In small doses, stress isn't bad. We all have to deal with it. But when stress is a continuous state of mind, as can happen with immigrants, a person's health can be placed in jeopardy.
The transition from one country to another — learning a new language on the fly, and accepting new cultural norms — can frazzle the strongest nerves.
To get those nervous systems back in balance before clinical depression sets in, a coalition of organizations is hosting "Safe and Sane," a free information session in July that focuses on reducing stress in the Hispanic community in the Bluegrass.
The groups include the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Lexington; its Multicultural Action Committee; the Migrant Farm Workers with Disabilities Employment Program, or MDEP, at the University of Kentucky; and the Hispanic Council in Lexington and Louisville.
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It will be the second of three events NAMI Lexington has planned in July that target minority communities.
Karen Cinnamond, program coordinator of MDEP at UK's Human Development Institute, said that at Safe and Sane, members of the Hispanic community will "learn concrete, factual information" and behavioral changes that will reduce the stress in their lives.
The information will include how to react if pulled over by police, what papers to keep handy, and the resources available to help them deal with depression and other mental illness.
The events come during Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in recognition of the accomplished author's advocacy for the mentally ill. Before her death in 2006, Campbell worked to break the stigma of mental health issues in the African-American community and minority communities as a whole.
In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives honored her with the national recognition.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, Hispanics are the least likely of all cultural groups to seek professional help for mental illness, preferring to rely heavily on family and community in a health crisis.
They also are the most likely to be uninsured and to have language and cultural barriers that stigmatize mental health issues.
The information sessions will work to break through those barriers, Cinnamond said.
Participants will be told, for example, to remain in the car if stopped by police. In Mexico, those stopped are expected to get out of their cars.
"It is very different than in our country," said Esperanza Rivera, an outreach worker at MDEP. "They need to try to keep calm, put their hands on the steering wheel and don't act out of nervousness."
Another speaker will address some immigration issues, Cinnamond said.
"This is not just for undocumented people," she said. "Typically, families are mixed," with illegal-immigrant parents caring for children who are citizens.
In those situations, she said, appropriate papers such as birth certificates and bank accounts should be easily accessible to help support the children should parents be deported. Or it could mean writing out a simple statement like, "If I get deported, I want this to happen to my children," she said.
"It's all things we take for granted," Cinnamond said. "But that creates a level of stress, along with the constant fear of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and continuous discrimination that increases the amount of stress immigrants endure.
"It is the peace of mind that will come with knowing what they can and cannot do and the resources that are available for following through."
The third part of the session will focus on identifying the symptoms of stress and how to find help. "We really believe in the one-on-one approach," Cinnamond said. "It is the most effective way to create linkages for access."
"It is about prevention so that their employment isn't jeopardized," Cinnamond said, "and they can't get or keep employment."