Years ago, Estela Diaz, of Brighton Park, sought therapy as she navigated a family crisis and chronic depression and anxiety.
As a mother of five, she faces daily responsibilities — taking her children to school, cooking and cleaning up the house, all in addition to her day job. But, some days, the biggest task was just getting out of bed despite carrying the weight of mental illness.
When she went looking for help, she was put on a waitlist with a service provider in her neighborhood. There, her name sat for five years.
Though she eventually got the services she needed, Estela’s harrowing experience fueled her to become a health advocate and community activist with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council (BPNC), a United Way community partner.
“Sometimes, it can be so hard to get up from bed and show my kids a happy face when I’m having my depression crisis, but I found my purpose to serve the community and that’s why I think I’ve been healing,” Estela said.
As the lead agency of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Network, BPNC and its partners work to ensure mental health services are available and accessible for anyone who needs them.
Among its various efforts, the Brighton Park Neighborhood Network assesses community health with surveys, connects residents to health providers and offers educational resources and counseling for parents and youth. It also trains residents like Estela to be Parent Health Promoters (Promotoras de Salud), breaking down the stigma around mental health and spreading the word about the Network’s various services and events.
When Estela joined the Promotoras a year ago, she found a community to talk about the very issues that she struggled with. Now, she encourages everyone to put their health first no matter their situation. “I know you have kids, I know you have a job, I know you have a lot of things to do, but if you are not taking care of yourself and putting your health first, it’s going to show up even worse,” she warned.
On a given day, you may see Estela and the Promotoras marching block-to-block, knocking on doors to survey each family’s health needs. Their annual Health Fair and in-school workshops are also meant to educate residents on topics from nutrition to healthcare.
By going out into the neighborhood, the Promotoras aim to connect with people who may be hard to reach through traditional means. “We work so hard for the Health Fair and the health surveys. We are walking in the streets with the surveys because we want to reach the community,” Estela said. “We are a community of compassion and we have hope.”
Estela’s passion bubbles in the Network’s monthly Health Committee meetings, where the Promotoras and Network partners align on strategies to tackle health issues in the neighborhood. At their November meeting, Network partners — including St. Anthony’s Hospital, Mount Sinai and Heartland Alliance — discussed how the committee can form trust between residents, health professionals and school clinicians.
Ultimately, by creating an environment where these various services are easily accessible, Estela and her Network partners hope to build a neighborhood where no one is left to suffer in silence.
“I was on the waitlist for 5 years, that’s why I say I’m the lucky one, but what about the others?” Estela wondered. “What about the ones who live in the shadows because they are so ashamed to say ‘I am dealing with this.’ That’s why I put so much effort into this campaign – for those people.”
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