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Overcoming cultural barriers to benefit from mental health help

In Lucy Ortega’s world, family is central. Like many families from Mexico, her family is close and multiple generations live together in the same home.

Growing up, Lucy’s family was the center of her life. They survived many challenges, having been separated and then reunited on the road to becoming U.S. citizens. Even as an adult, Lucy’s family is her cornerstone. And, as a single mom, she’s particularly grateful for this grounding and the continual support she gets from her family.

In 2016, Lucy’s mom died at age 59. Lucy and her sisters were devastated. Her confidant, friend and mother was gone! The loss created a huge hole in the family. Lucy’s dad was lost without his life partner. Lucy did her best to adjust and move on by focusing on work and her two daughters, Diana and Danielle.    

Then Lucy’s dad moved back to Mexico in 2019 with his new girlfriend. Although Lucy was an adult, her dad’s close presence as her remaining parent created a buffer for the loss of her mom. She visited her dad frequently in Mexico, but it just wasn’t the same.  

The beginning of 2020, prior even to the COVID pandemic, was particularly difficult for Lucy. She developed health problems, had trouble sleeping, and was despondent over a recent break-up with her boyfriend. She felt anxious, depressed and didn’t enjoy the normal activities in her life — all of which were new feelings for her.    

One day while doing laundry, Lucy started thinking about killing herself. This was completely out of character. She wondered about the impact her suicide would have on her two girls. It scared her.  

“I knew then that I needed to do something,” she said.  

Around this same time, Lucy’s 13 year old, Diana, told her she had something to tell her.  Diana shared that she was transgender and showed Lucy a YouTube video about coming out.    

“I didn’t know what to think or how to respond,” Lucy remembered.

The previous fall, just prior to the holidays, Diana had become quieter and less outgoing.  She kept to herself much more and stayed in her room. Problems developed with her school work and Diana lost interest in normal activities. She simply didn’t show any excitement in her life anymore.  

Looking back, Lucy recalls other things making more sense, too. When Diana was younger, she didn’t like the stereotypical “girly” toys, preferring Hot Wheels over dolls. She hated wearing dresses and loved sports. She didn’t have traditional girl colors or other decorations in her room. In virtual games, she was always a guy, even mentioning that she’d like to have a beard.

With her own challenges and Diana’s announcement, Lucy knew she needed help.  However, in Lucy’s culture, you don’t talk about or reach out for help with mental health concerns.  Yet she knew her mom had emotional challenges that weren’t addressed.  Fortunately, Lucy knows a FIC staff member from her community and, with her sister’s support, she was able to reach out.  

These days, Lucy has no regrets. She learned better coping skills, knows more about resources in the community, and is feeling more like herself again.  

“A lot of weight was lifted,” said Lucy, who has referred others to FIC. “FIC made a huge difference. They’re like your friends.”  

With FIC’s support, Lucy helped herself and, in turn, supported both her daughters in a healthier way. In fact, Diana continues to show initiative to help herself. She researched transgender identity and found a support group to help her navigate the challenges of being transgender. She also learned that many transgender youth are rejected by their families, often kicked out of the family home.  

Also, Diana, who cut her hair and now wears more comfortable clothes, has shared her identity with select friends at school. They’ve been supportive. Danielle is supportive too, although it’s been an adjustment. The family has received counseling to explore transgender identity and learn how to make Diana, who is planning to change her name, feel more at home with her new identity, as well as help Lucy and Danielle adjust.

Although navigating Diana’s transgender journey will have challenges, Lucy feels confident that the family can handle them better now after getting help from FIC.

“I know if I need help, I can reach out to FIC again,” she said.

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