Updated: Jun 7
empowered and oppressed by the intricate ways in which parts of their identities connect."
Karina Mendez (she/her), a former NAMI KDK intern and Behavioral Therapist at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, joins the conversation today. Karina is a Military Police Officer in the US Army Reserves and a Mobile Crisis Response Team Crisis Counselor at Association for Individual Development (AID). She will graduate with an MSW from Aurora University in December and holds a dual BA in Criminal Justice and Corrections and Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Chicago. From East Aurora and raised Catholic, she attended Spanish-language Catholic Church services and schools growing up. Karina brings lived experience with depression, providing services in diverse settings, and as a tireless mental health advocate to our conversation.
Karina, who grew up in East Aurora, is First Lieutenant in the US Army and has served in the US Army for six years. She says her experience as a private in the lower ranks allows her to mix things up and "make the training more fun."
Karina wants to spread awareness about beliefs and attitudes like these to help "end stigma in my culture":
Mental illness doesn't exist.
People aren't depressed - they're lazy.
Frowning on those who have a mental illness.
Many barriers to mental health care for the Latinx community exist, she says, including:
A lack of materials written in Spanish about the Spanish-language mental health resources that do exist
Few Spanish-language mental health resources
An insufficient number of Spanish-speaking therapists
Not having any or adequate health insurance coverage
She shares these ideas for mental health advocacy for Latinx communities:
Provide community education, including in faith communities
Increase the number of Spanish-speaking therapists
Ensure therapists understand Latinx cultures
"When a Spanish speaker realizes I understand their culture and language, their face brightens with a huge smile and a sense of comfort, removing a fake mask."
Karina grew up Catholic, and her whole family is Catholic. "I still practice here and there. I believe in some things and others I don't. I'm pro-choice, and I disagree with their being against same-sex marriage. It's things like that I disagree with."
All her childhood school and church services - including her first Communion - were in Spanish. She grew up doing specific prayers. Now, she prays or does guided meditations each night to ground her.
"It's super weird, but I only pray in Spanish, not in English. It would be hard to do it in English. I wouldn't memorize it in English."
"I believe there is a higher power. There is probably a God. I strongly believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe and wear a necklace that features her on it."
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Karina shares, appeared in 1531 to an indigenous Mexican named Cuauhtlatoatzin (St. Juan Diego), who was walking alone. "The Virgin asked him to go to the church, speak to the pastor, and tell him that she wanted a church built in that exact place. When he went back, she reappeared and told him to come back at a particular time. When he returned to that area of the desert, there were many roses and a garment on which there was an image of the Virgin."
The image of the Virgin, still spotless today, amazes and puzzles experts who can't explain how its "strokes of the dress and moon and stars all align precisely to the night she appeared."
"There's nothing like it," Karina reflects.
You can check out this Our Lady of Guadalupe Documentary Karina shared.
Karina, who may have depression but has no formal diagnosis, recently started facing past trauma. "When I stay busy not dealing with it, I'm okay–but I didn't understand what my triggers were. I was hiding past trauma from myself, and support groups and therapy were helpful. I recommend everyone go to therapy even if you don't think you need it."
Choosing the right words to help someone can be stressful. Sometimes Karina gets anxious when doing crisis assessments at work. Using the CALM app's 3-minute anxiety or mindfulness meditations quickly relieves her anxiety. Her mindfulness course at Aurora made her more comfortable with meditation. Religious practices like praying, singing, and saying affirmations were the most helpful thing for Karina's mom when she experienced depression.
Karina values family - her parents and brothers. She's very close and a mentor to her brothers. They talk often and never fight or argue. She's there for them and her friends. She loves being there for people - being available. Karina values care, community, companionship, and relationship.
Karina works to extend care to herself. She takes supplements for a vitamin D deficiency and tries to stay active.
A part of her self-care is just trying to notice. "When I need extra rest? Or something else? When am I just not feeling it? When would it help to analyze my thoughts?"
As our conversation ends, Karina ponders: "Most of our lives are based on our mentality - no matter your religious practices or beliefs. If you really believe something will change, it probably will. Prayers are like a way of having faith - having faith in that belief."
NAMI KDK helps fill the mental health resource gap in Illinois's Kane-south, DeKalb, and Kendall counties. We provide free support groups, education, a resource guide, advocacy opportunities, and community presentations. We recruit staff and interns that look like and represent our community. NAMI KDK has support groups for those experiencing symptoms (Connections) and those who support those experiencing symptoms (Family and Loved Ones). We have Spanish-speaking Connection and Family support groups and programs and support groups specifically for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
The views and opinions expressed in these conversations are those of the guests and host and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of NAMI KDK, Interfaith America, or any entities they represent or with which they are associated.