“People who are alone fight against mental health.”

The Pandemic has caused instability, fear, anxiety. It has undoubtedly affected mental health. We spoke with Lucía Serna, Promoter of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, about this and other topics such as the Senior Wellness Program, Vive Bien.

Lucia Serna

How does the Pandemic affect people with mental health problems and those who didn’t have them?

The Pandemic affects everyone, even if they do not have mental health problems. It caused  imbalance, depression, and anxiety.
For those who were already struggling with Mental Health, the Pandemic was a trigger that made them feel worse.
During the Pandemic, there were parents worried about their children in emotional situations since some were not motivated to do school activities, and at the same time, their grades dropped.

Due to the Pandemic, the resources closed their doors, and the services were offered virtually. Care was slow, waiting times longer, and more difficult to receive care. The Pandemic brought difficult times of loss and grief, financial problems, and household instability.

How can a person maintain social connections? What can they do if they feel lonely?

Both as students, adults, or seniors, it is important that they have social interactions because it is good for the brain.
People who feel lonely or isolated are in a battle against their mental health. People with mental disorders need to connect with other people because isolation is not a good option.
Some people said that they were experiencing forgetfulness and felt certain different emotions because of being isolated and not seeing relatives and others personally. So they were partly being affected by not having social connections.

It is important for people not to suppress their emotions and they should talk about their problems and bring out what they have inside.  You don’t necessarily have to talk to a psychologist, but you can speak to a friend or family member. Self-care, communicating feelings, and feedback is also very important.

The common thought is that to receive mental health attention is too expensive. How can a person find a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor with few or no resources?

Los Angeles County has many free or low-cost resources available depending on income. The resources are accessible, but the problem is that many people do not seek help because of stigma.
Sometimes people seek mental health help from their primary doctor, but sometimes they are not the right person to help them.

The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Promoters program has promoters who help reach more community members who may need and are referring them to these services. They also give orientation as to where they can find some resources related to financial aid and Immigration.

Does Mental Health have the place it deserves in society?
Society deserves to have mental health and to have those resources.

The Department of Mental Health is doing everything possible to promote that all services reach all people, without discriminating against social group, socioeconomic level, or immigration status.

Stigma about mental health is also common among Latinos as they do not feel that it is important to ask for help. In the Latino Community, sometimes they have serious problems with their basic needs and it has been difficult for them to focus on mental health and also because they do not have health insurance.

Mental Health is widely promoted, and there are more and more resources and agencies with community outreach programs and services that are reaching more people. The work of Promotores has helped to verify that the service is needed by many people and has been a communication link between the Community and the Department of Mental Health.

The Promotoras en la Comunidad program includes resources, presentations on specific topics to maintain good mental health. During the Pandemic, the Promoters focused on giving virtual Presentations and collaborated with people to promote COVID-19 vaccines, COVID-19 tests, and precautions to prevent the spread.
The Promotoras not only focus on offering resources for mental health, also on providing financial resources, assistance with paying the rent, or paying the bills.

Adolescents are in a fragile situation and more during the Pandemic, are there enough resources  to help them?

During the Pandemic, it was a difficult time for adolescents because they were at home for a long time and taking their classes online, so they did not have the direct connection of being in school, which allows them to develop emotionally. Some parents said that their children exhibited changes in behavior and that they had low motivation. Schools offer support services to adolescents, and there are many more mental health services in the community, but services were slower during the Pandemic due to the high demand of cases. So many young people are still waiting to receive some help.

Many resources are accessible to young people, mental health clinics that depend on the Department of Mental Health, and care is provided from newborn to 23 or 25 years old, including learning disabilities, behavioral problems, control of drugs, violence control, or family violence.

It is essential to guide families, so they know where to look for resources. There is a 24-hour Mental Health number when someone has a crisis, panic attack, domestic violence. They can call (800) 854-7771.

If they forget the number, they can call 211 to contact the Department of Mental Health.

Which is the most common problem you find in your job field?

In our work as Promotores de Salud Mental with the Latino Community, Depression has been the most common problem in adults. The second common problem would be domestic violence. These problems are affecting the whole family and many more children and young people. It is very difficult for children and young people to face these problems because they do not know how to communicate feelings of Depression and Anxiety and instead show them inappropriate behavior changes.

Are racial issues a problem in Mental Health?

In the Latino community, there is concern and stress about immigration laws due to legal status and that it is a problem that causes crisis, anxiety, and concern.

Promotores facilitate a Mental Health and Immigration presentation that is about the stress caused by immigration laws and where they are guided to reduce immigration stress.

They live in constant stress because they think that “la migra” will take them away, and they will be away from their children. The issue of family separation is a serious problem. Children perceive this stress and also feel worried about the situation that they may take to their parents. They live in constant fear and worry that they will not see their parents again.

Please tell us about the Vive Bien Program and your experiences? Why, in your experience, is it so important to the Community? Do you have any stories you would like to share about your interactions with Vive Bien members? What was your main discovery during Vive Bien? Do you have any advice to give to those who work with older people?

Vive Bien has opened doors to many people. Members have commented that Vive Bien is a place where they feel good and can connect with other people, bring out what they have inside and talk about their experiences and what is happening to them. They feel welcomed and that they consider it a second home.

During the Pandemic, Lucia offered classes by phone to the members of Vive Bien and looked at the meaning that the program, Vive Bien, has for them because they missed coming to classes in person. Members support each other.

The Vive Bien program helps them a lot emotionally, and every day they are eager to come to class. They are grateful for the assistance, attention, and guidance they receive from the Vive Bien program.

As a promoter, I have shared emotions, sadness, joy and have built a bond with them. There is one member in particular that I greatly admire for her energy and positive attitude, and she encourages everyone during the Pandemic. I have a lot of affection and appreciation for them.

The virtual mental health classes offered via the phone during the Pandemic allowed the members to unite, and as a promoter, she knew what they felt and needed at that time. I encouraged them during the Pandemic by telling them that they would not be quarantined forever and that the group would see each other again in person.

One very important piece of advice I have is listening to them, being patient with them, and having empathy to know what they need.

 How do the Los Angeles County Wellness Line and Chat work?

The line is available 24 hours, and the chat is an effective way to ask for help if someone has a crisis such as a panic attack, domestic violence, and any questions about getting services. The number they can call is (800) 854-7771.

If you forget the number, you can call 211 to contact the Department of Mental Health.

The chat is more accessible if you are in a crisis situation in front of someone and cannot make the call.

 Is there a particular message you want to share with our Community?

That we stick together and that if you need any help to find where to go, we as Mental Health Promoters are available to provide information on resources. Ask for help and do not repress your emotions and think that it will later be solved; because sometimes the problem can worsen.

It is vital that you talk to someone, a family member, or seek help from the Department of Mental.




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