Photo by Ryan Brinkman | Photo Editing by Haley Hoidal
Professor Tomas Martinez said his lifetime commitment is to give back to the people in his community, specifically the Latinx community.
As a Psychology professor at Seaver College from Baldwin Park, Calif., he said his passion for community mental health extends to those who are at-risk or disadvantaged across different minority and language groups. Martinez said mental health care should be curated to be both culturally appropriate and competent.
“I do feel that mental health and mental wellness is as important as mental illness,” Martinez said. “For me, this has always been a passion of community mental health — to try to provide mental health care to those who are more in need, to those who have had difficulty finding access to services and those who really are more at risk for care.”
It is important to provide culturally sensitive and competent mental health services because of transgenerational trauma, said Martinez, who recently completed a trauma study on Latinx adolescents receiving mental health therapy.
“[Transgenerational traumas] are traumas that have been continued from family to family, generation to generation,” Martinez said. “Even though we would like to think that families get better and improve, oftentimes they have more struggles because of these transgenerational traumas.”
Martinez said the idea is to provide treatment that will help change the structure of the family to improve qualities of life and communication while strengthening the family.
“I do believe in early intervention — the earlier we can help the child improve their mental health, the less issues we’re going to have and feelings of problems [they will] have later on growing up,” Martinez said.
Martinez’s passion for mental health is seen in the number of mental health clinics he developed in the San Fernando Valley. One of the clinics is El Centro de Amistad, and he is also involved in the Luminarias Institute, which works with at-risk charter schools to provide mental health services online.
“When you look at the disparities, when you look at the high-risk conditions, when you look at who is being treated in hospitals for mental health, there is still a tremendous amount of disparity across different ethnic and diverse populations,” Martinez said.
There is a great deal of stigma regarding mental health and misunderstandings about those who have mental health challenges as well, Martinez said. In one example, people experiencing homelessness, who are “blamed unfairly by society,” may have limitations from mental illness that don’t allow them to survive and function, he said.
“We need to normalize mental health and mental illness in our community and in our world so that we are better able to address it and not [be] so fearful of it,” Martinez said.
The best way to destigmatize mental health, Martinez said, is to acknowledge these are medical disorders that do exist and there are treatments that can be used to reduce or mimic those effects and to make them available who require it, wherever they are.
“When we think about multicultural issues of prioritization and privilege, it’s that being healthy is a privilege in our society — that it’s not a right,” Martinez said. “At the same time, the benefits of care to others is something that, as a human society, we should provide to those who cannot take care of themselves — especially as Christians. I do believe this is something of our life work if we are committed to God and committed to our community.”
Contact Sofia Longo via Twitter: @sofialongo_ or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org