Ozomatli and Congresswoman Stump for Mental Health Funding

Sixteen years of Ozomatli's out-of-the-nightclub conga lines would not have been were it not for group therapy. That's what band co-founders Raul Pacheco and Ulises Bella told a packed auditorium at Cerritos College last week.

Bella said the group had to deal with some heavy duty issues within a few years of the founding of the Latin, hip-hop group. "As far as a band, in a lot of ways we are a micro of the macro of the society, we've had to deal with addiction, alcoholism, we've had to deal with mental health issues, people breaking down mentally," Bella said.

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And group therapy, he said, has kept the group focused on producing music and moving forward with the band's career. Bella and Pacheco took part in the Cerritos College mental health panel at the request of Norwalk-area Congresswoman Grace Napolitano. She's authored a bill that would set aside $200 million in federal fund that would go to school districts in $1 million - maximum grants to hire on-site mental health professionals on public school campuses. She told students she believes therapy could have cut off the alcoholism that ultimately killed her husband. Bullying, she said, is just the tip of the iceberg when talking about kids and teens mental health issues. "Whether it's the pressure of school, of family, of learning, of peer pressure, of bullying, schizophrenia, disorders we know our children have."

Recent budget cuts have hammered schools' mental health budgets. In California there's been a tug of war over whether counties or school districts should pay to treat students' psychological needs.

Recent Cerritos College graduate Laura Munro can testify to the damage left by untreated psychological issues. She agreed to talk on the panel about her depression diagnosis several years ago because she wants others to come out and seek help. Now she works toward helping college students who've fallen through the cracks in this mostly Latino campus.

"I notice in this demographic that their parents feel that there's something wrong with it, and they shame their children. And that shame is something that's hard for them to get away from, so if they find a safe place to go to and counselors at a campus where they feel its anonymous somewhat so that their parents don't find out, that's the important part," Munro said.

Many students on this campus who need mental health counseling have been gone without it for years, she said. Budget cuts eight years ago forced Cerritos College to lay off its full-time mental health professional.

Last year Munro co-founded a student group called Active Minds. Some of the members are psychology students, others have been dealing with depression and other problems. All came together to let students know about off campus psychological services and to act as a support group. After the event the group celebrated the panel's success. It was a double celebration of sorts. Weeks earlier Cerritos College said it had found funding to hire a full-time mental health professional to start seeing students.

Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

About the Author

Adolfo’s been a reporter at NPR affiliate KPCC since 2000. He’s reported on three L.A. mayors, four L.A. Unified superintendents, and covered the LAPD batons and rubber bullets flying at the May, 2007 MacArthur Park immigrant marc...
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