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The Wall, LGBTQ Communities, and Mental Health Career

Rosemary Jenkins: There is a serious lack of LGBTQ representation in the mental health workforce, certainly due in part to the absence of significant involvement from LGBTQ students.

The Wall las Memoria (a non-profit) is a wonderful organization about which I have written earlier. Not only is it an exciting institution onto itself (one with impressive goals) but also, if one can objectively say it, is staffed by awesome people. Its stated goal is “to serve low income and hard-to-reach communities throughout Los Angeles” with the emphasis on health and wellness,” dedicated to serving Latino, LGBTQ, and other underserved populations through advocacy, education, and building the next generation of leadership.”

The Wall las Memoria

The Wall, LGBTQ Communities, and Mental Health Career—Rosemary Jenkins

Where did it get its name? Richard Zaldivar (its founder), inspired by the loss of a close friend to HIV/AIDS, thought of constructing an actual wall panel (eventually located in Lincoln Park) with the names of victims who died from AIDS. What we see today (begun in 2004) is a series of fabulous and fantastical murals (in the styles of South American folk art) on one side of a walkway with names on the other. At night, the sight is breathtaking and well worth the effort to come out to view with family and friends.

With that said, this article concentrates on the leadership segment of its program.

Let me bring your attention to The Wall’s significant outreach conference which is scheduled for Saturday, April 23, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 1;30 p.m., at the USC-Mark Taper hall of Humanities (not at the Music Center). Please mark your calendars.

The keynote speakers will include Richard Zaldivar, the Wall’s Executive Director, and Hilda Solis, LA County Supervisor from District 1 (and former Secretary of Labor during President Obama’s second term). Panel participants include people from academia, public health, and other areas of expertise.

Speakers will address (among other issues) the obstacles faced by the Latino LGBTQ community (“Q” generally refers to those who question and try to determine their identity). The objective is to encourage audience attendees (particularly the young people from this community) to enter mental health careers with the idea of empowering, encouraging, and supporting future leaders in this broad field.

The fact is that, at present, very few of the teachers at our schools and professionals in our clinics come from this community and thus often have greater difficulty connecting with their students and clients. We must recognize the reality that when people can relate to those who mentor them, those students and patients can form an easier bond and see themselves in those who are offering them guidance.

There is a serious lack of LGBTQ representation in the mental health workforce, certainly due in part to the absence of significant involvement from LGBTQ students. 

There is no question that there is a serious lack of LGBTQ representation in the mental health workforce, certainly due in part to the absence of significant involvement from LGBTQ students. Consequently, this conference wants to attract community college students, undergrads, and grads from the LGBTQ community to help them learn about pathways to mental health careers. Thus, encouraging them (particularly those considering their future occupations) to contemplate pursuing a profession that is badly in need of their commitment cannot be underscored enough.

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It is clear, then, that adding to the ranks of mental health teachers and counsellors is absolutely essential to creating and sustaining healthy mental fitness and a sense of wholeness for those in the community, especially for those who have become victims of a frequently indifferent, often mean-spirited, insensitive, and uncaring community (which includes family, “friends,” and neighbors, peers at school and elsewhere).

Coincidentally and thanks to some serendipity, during the Democratic Convention last weekend, I had the occasion to speak with California Superintendent of Education, Tom Torlakson, about a number of goals to improve our current educational practices, one of which is the concept of “going back to the future” when middle and high schools used to offer fine arts wheels during which all students would be introduced to a variety of life skills, like cooking, sewing, wood and metal shops, auto mechanics, computer skills, and so forth.

I took the opportunity to mention that such an educational concept must also address health vocations. Doing that would be pivotal to accomplishing the goal of encouraging more people to become mental (and other) health care workers and professionals. The need becomes obvious: many from the LGBTQ community have searched long and hard to determine their own identity and to feel good about and be comfortable with themselves but generally do not have the skills or support to guide them to achieve such goals. Ergo the need for more health care workers who would be able to fill the void that now exists in this profession.

Importantly and even altruistically, in doing so they would be in a position to work with those who have often become so depressed by alienation from family and community that they have considered or even attempted suicide. Adroit, empathetic, constructive, and positive counselling can often turn around such tragic self-loathing and feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and emptiness.

Furthermore, it is absolutely essential to get government at all levels to mandate that every school expand its curriculum for all students in order to include meaningful instruction which addresses these issues. As a result, such instruction would afford students outside the LGBTQ community the ability to develop a better understanding of the people in it. Such students can similarly come to recognize that there really are few differences among us and, that given the chance, any of their fellow students can become valuable friends.

Government must additionally assist in the growth and expansion of non-profits outside of and/or connected with the school system. Such organizations would be available to help, educate, and offer a range of therapies for those who feel they exist only on the fringe of a society that has caused them to feel rejected and alienated. It is all about building self-worth, self-esteem, acceptance of and pride in the people who they really are, turning feelings of depression and worthlessness into a sense of satisfaction and joy in the person they discover themselves to be. Importantly, it would encourage completing educational opportunities so that those suffering can instead become meaningful contributors to their chosen communities.

In the meantime, The Wall has established the ¡Salud a la Salud! Leadership Circle which includes 18-26 year old LGBTQ youth and their straight allies. The Circle meets monthly with these young people from across Los Angeles. During the meetings, the participants find the setting to be a safe place to discuss experiences but, while there, are also trained to advocate and engage in outreach for the greater community.

The bottom line is we must recognize the importance of and benefits from organizations such as The Wall and support their goals. Attending such events as this upcoming conference would be a truly enlightening experience and perhaps somewhat life-changing as well. We all know people (if not ourselves) who are LGBTQ and must be willing to open ourselves to welcoming them (and each other) in a genuine and honest way into our families, communities, and workplaces.

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Registration for this event is necessary but attendance is free. For more details, look at the following: Saturday, April 23, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the USC-Mark Taper Hall of Humanities (not at the Music Center)

Rosemary Jenkins