The Peer Mental Health Alliance hosted a “Suicide Prevention for Minorities” seminar in the LDS Center on Friday, Sept. 21. Minorities face many hurdles, such as the race-based wage gap, that a majority of whites don’t, which can affect their mental health, according to therapist Dr. Alexis Granados.  THE PEOPLE SPEAK!/FLICKR VIA CC BY 2.0

“It took a lot of work to create a life: two people, 270 days and that’s if you even make it,” Dr. Alexis Granados, psychotherapist and existential therapist, said at the “Suicide Prevention for Minorities” seminar held in the Leadership and Service Center in H Quad on Friday, Sept. 21.

The gathering, organized by the Peer Mental Health Alliance (PMHA), served to educate people about potential causes and preventative measures for suicide, in addition to emphasizing the importance of self-love. The meeting particularly focused on mental health for minorities and touched on how dialogue about mental health is often ignored or denied by minority communities.

Junior psychology major and coordinator for Friday night’s event, Elizabeth Ballin, said her mother labeled her struggles with self harm as fake, and she was branded as “lazy” and “ungrateful” by her relatives. After a meaningful conversation, her mother discovered that she herself was suffering from the same symptoms as Elizabeth. The two went on to attend therapy together.

“I wake up each morning and realize that three years ago, I was at the edge of not existing anymore,” Ballin said. “The fact that I’m still here and still pushing is very important.”

In the eyes of senior psychology major Allilsa Fernandez, president and founder of PMHA, minorities face a host of hurdles that a majority of Caucasians don’t. The race-based wage gap, for one, makes mental health care unaffordable to many. “A colored man earns less than a white man in most places,” she said. “He has to work multiple jobs and longer hours in a day. If he gets out of work at 10 p.m., do you know of any psychologist who works after 10 in the night?”

Fernandez pointed out that minority patients often feel uncomfortable with therapists who don’t understand their culture, background and language. “If you can’t be fully understood at all levels, then how can you be healed?” she said.

Later on, Fernandez shared the story of an Indian student at Stony Brook who once approached the PMHA severely depressed and stressed. The student’s family had selected a suitor for her and was forcing her into marriage against her will. Unfortunately, Fernandez said that nobody at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) understood the student’s situation or could meet her halfway to offer support.

Using this example, Granados segued into talking about how mental health issues differ between men and women.

“The reasons why creating self-love is more important for women than in men is because of the social upbringing of boys and girls,” she stated.

Granados then went on to explain her theory that young boys are encouraged to explore, venture and conquer, making them less likely to run into what she calls the “lifeless syndrome,” an indifferent, mechanical existence with no dreams, goals or desires. Girls, on the other hand are raised to care for others and less for themselves, she said, “though a lot lesser than before, I believe this parity exists even in the 21st century.”

When asked about how “peer alliances” could support individuals in such delicate scenarios, despite their lack of professional training, Fernandez defended the work of the PMHA.

“If your father teaches you to drive a car but you haven’t ever [taken] an exam, does that mean you can’t drive?” she asked. “This is the same. The peer alliance program is to connect the students who are suffering with the students who have suffered before,” Fernandez said, adding that many students don’t feel comfortable seeking out professional help.

Sophomore biology major Emily Withers said she was pleasantly surprised by the discussion that took place. “I came in thinking that I’d be a spectator, but I definitely took something back for myself from tonight,” she said.