Group breaking barriers in receiving mental health support for Hispanic women in the GTA

A new group is trying to change that by normalizing conversations around mental health care in Hispanic culture. Melissa Nakhavoly has more on Mujeres in Charge.

By Melissa Nakhavoly

For the Hispanic population, access to mental health supports seems to be limited by cultural differences as well as language barriers. But one group, Mujeres in Charge, is trying to change that by normalizing conversations around mental health care in Hispanic culture.

Katherine Lemus, the founder of the group, said she has struggled with her own mental health since she was a child.

“I denied it, I didn’t want to be weak for years. Through high school, I had another situation and again I didn’t take meds because it was frowned upon and I didn’t want to bring shame to my family,” explained Lemus.

After realizing the gaps in mental health supports for Latin women, the Guatemalan-Canadian decided to create the support group she wished she had.

In February 2023, she launched Mujeres in Charge, which translated means Women in Charge, a safe space for Latinas to come together, and build relationships while sharing their own mental health journeys.

“I had one message that really touched me, ‘I have a 20-year-old daughter who’s been struggling, and I never wanted her to think she had anything mental health-related, and reading your stories and seeing about it I’m becoming a lot more aware.’ Just seeing that, it’s nice to see,” shared Lemus.

Lemus has been hosting monthly events where Latinas come together and meet other like-minded individuals. The events usually consist of fun activities such as a dance class or candle-making where women are able to let loose, relax and meet new people.

“I wanted to help women feel less lonely, so I combined the two things that I wanted to do which was help break the stigma and make new friends.”

Lemus said she also wanted to do more than just host events. While recognizing the gap in accessing mental health care for the Hispanic community, she established a partnership with an online platform to offer free month-long therapy for Latinas.

“I definitely think we lack a lot of resources especially because sometimes there’s language barriers,” Lemus said.

Hispanic counselor Arami Galeano said there are many contributing factors when it comes to the stigma around seeking mental health supports in the Latin community.

“Mental health is seen as a weakness sometimes and there’s this belief in the Latin American community very embedded around struggle. So, it’s like if you suffer you are seen as a strong woman, if you’re trying hard this is seen as a good thing in our culture,” Galeano explained.

Galeano said what makes it even more difficult is the lack of resources, especially in Spanish.

“There are not enough services to access mental health. The message that this is giving to society is that this is not as important as it should be, so I think changes in policies and policy reform regarding accessing mental health is really important as well.”

As for Lemus and the future of Mujeres in Charge, she hopes her vision bridges a bit of that gap for all women to be able to take charge of their own mental health.

“I would love for down the road for this to become a non-profit to just grow maybe in different parts of Canada. That’s really the goal.”

More information on Mujeres in Charge can be found on their website or Instagram page.

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