Mental Health Champions: Why & How Dr Jasmin Collazo of MindRight Health Is Helping To Champion…

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Mental Health Champions: Why & How Dr Jasmin Collazo of MindRight Health Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

It’s completely normal to become frustrated when we are not seeing positive changes within our society. I felt this way several times in my community in Newark. I want to go back to the mantra that I referenced earlier and tell other people that change won’t get done if you are waiting on others to do it. An action, no matter how great or small, can have ripple effects towards meaningful change. The most important thing is that there is actual movement towards this positive impact.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jasmin Collazo, DSW, LCSW.

Dr. Jasmin Collazo, DSW, LCSW is the Director of Coaching at MindRight Health, a tech startup focusing on providing culturally responsive mental health support to youth via text message. Dr. Collazo also works as a micro-level social worker working with adolescents and young adults as clinician and owner of her part-time private practice. She continues to meld her values of community and service by also investing in the next generation of social workers as an adjunct professor at New York University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born and raised in the North ward section of Newark, New Jersey for the first 30 years of my life. I grew up in a Puerto Rican household consisting of my two parents and my younger sister. I was raised in Newark during a time when Newark ranked high on the list of the “Most Dangerous Cities in America.” Although crime was prominent in our city, Newark was my whole world and where my community of faith, family, and friends were established. I grew up in a household where education was highly valued and my parents worked long hours, hiding any financial difficulties, to ensure we did not have to worry about anything other than school.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

At MindRight Health, we are working to make mental health support radically accessible to youth, especially young people in low-income and marginalized communities where mental health support is greatly needed but minimally accessible. We further commit to making our mental health support culturally responsive, understanding that the mental health stigma found in BIPOC youth can be further diminished by providing the type of support they can relate to. As the Director of Coaching, I lead our nonclinical mental health coaching delivery model by ensuring our coaching practices continue to be evidence-based and culturally-responsive to support our members.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I’ve always had a passion to work with young people within my community and I started this at a young age through my church, after-school volunteer opportunities, and later working as an in-home therapist within the City of Newark. In 2019, I came across an article describing how our Founder, Ashley Edwards, founded MindRight Health in Newark. I was immediately drawn to MindRight’s impact but more importantly because I worked with Newark youth, I saw firsthand that this type of support was immensely needed in our community. I knew countless youth who needed someone to talk to, but grew up in households where mental health was shamed. I even had some families who were open to mental health support for their children but either had to endure long waiting lists or an in-home therapist who would not dare go into their neighborhood. I just knew I needed to be involved in this cause and was the first to contact MindRight to inquire if they had any volunteer opportunities. The rest is history.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I have a mantra I tend to live by that says “As much time and energy I spend complaining about it, I must equally spend the same amount of time and energy doing something about it.” It is much easier to express our dislike or disagreement with something, but it takes much more effort to bring about the change we want to see. I knew I always wanted to bring about change in my community, and at the time I thought that obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice was the best way to do that in the City of Newark. However, it was not until I took an Intro to Social Work class in my freshman year that I discovered other ways of changing community. I learned more about Social Work’s values of social justice, systems change, and advocacy, in addition to engagement in direct service. That class empowered me to add Social Work as a major and was the final trigger into a life of service to my community.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Since starting my role as Director of Coaching, the greatest and most interesting thing about this role is getting to see the direct impact that our mental health coaching service has had on our members. I am big on feedback and implemented a variety of ways for members to have a voice at MindRight. Thus, our members are always informing us of the many types of ways that they have been supported. Many of our members report back on leaving unhealthy relationships, finding their self-confidence again, thinking more positively, and engaging in their values.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My parents and sister have always been my cheerleaders and I would be remiss not to shout them out. They have always believed in me and frequently affirmed my ability to succeed. They have always demonstrated their pride in me, but I also want to highlight my uncle who also helped me succeed in many ways. My uncle was the first in his immediate family to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Having someone in our family graduate college made me see this goal as attainable and possible. Secondly, knowing that I had someone who had this lived experience made the journey of going to college less fearful and lonely. Lastly, knowing that my financial aid would not cover all of my tuition and I would have to work through college, my uncle created a sort of scholarship for me that I did not have to pay back, as long as I got good grades. All this support from my family really helped me succeed and their sacrifices and support influence me to this day. I see the work that I do at MindRight as a way to honor their sacrifice.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Our individualistic society tells us that we have to “be better, be stronger, and get there faster” and this often becomes synonymous with minimizing the expression of emotions and life challenges. From the moment we are born, we are socialized into this mindset by the media, by institutional systems, and society’s gender role constructs. For young girls, that is learning to be “even-tempered” and not too “emotional,” while for young boys, this means completely stifling emotions in order to reflect the “traditional” masculine assertion of dominance and control.

Another reason is the healthcare system’s need to frequently label, and thus pathologize, mental health. The use of the word disorder, frequent in mental health treatment with the use of the American Psychological Association’s DSM-5-TR, gives the connotation that something is wrong with the individual. Although labels can help us understand and make meaning of our experiences, there continues to be an overemphasis on the “dis-order” in our lives. This fosters and perpetuates a culture of shame and thus, stigma.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

We as individuals can learn and develop empathy in order to better support people suffering from mental illness. When we take the time to understand the lived experiences of people with mental illness, then we are in a greater position to support them because we have developed a better understanding of their needs, their struggles, their preferences, their strengths, and also their resilience. Understanding the totality of one’s experience allows us to be more intentional with our support to those suffering from mental illness.

With this in mind, as a society we can gather as a collective and continue to advocate for wider access to mental health support. In order to destigmatize mental health, we should create more spaces for community conversations on mental health and normalize mental health in children at an early age. On a governmental level, states and federal governments can not only dedicate resources to remove barriers to access mental health support and treatment, but also dedicate resources towards removing barriers to help them remain in treatment. For example, clients may have to spread out treatment because they cannot afford to pay their co-pays every week and will sometimes stop treatment altogether due to this cost. Governmental bodies can develop grants and assistance programs to alleviate this.

What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

The first strategy that really promoted my wellbeing and mental wellness was limiting my connection to social media. Several years ago I decided to let go of Facebook and Instagram, now only keeping a Linkedin account. I noticed that I had significantly much more time to myself which meant that I was able to truly savor and stay present for the things I enjoy the most. I also am a firm believer of doing things that engage the imagination as a way to promote wellbeing. I am a voracious reader and read fiction and nonfiction books that bring me to another world or push me towards continued personal growth. I also engage with my inner explorer and periodically, but consistently, plan experiences where I learn a new skill like my salsa classes or explore a new part of the world through travel. I am fortunate enough to be able to do this via our unlimited vacation policy at MindRight and the work culture that always actively lives out self-care. I made a commitment to myself to travel at least twice a year and MindRight has been so supportive of this. My last two strategies are similar in that they involve social connection and community involvement. I ground myself in my community of faith and my community of friends and family (with large overlap between the two). I ensure that no matter how busy I am, I set aside time to connect with them. Spending time with people I love and admire nourishes my need for connection and this community also holds me accountable to taking care of myself. I have recently committed to reaching out to family members whose connection has waned due to the pandemic, and it has brought such joy to rebuild these bonds again.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

Choosing my favorite books is always a hard question for me. That list is ever evolving but one that sticks out to me is the book Latinx in Social Work by Erica Priscilla Sandoval, in which I was fortunate to write a book chapter in. This is a collection of personal narratives of Latinx social workers who are doing wonderful work in their communities. Each of them are mental health champions and their narratives continually inspire me to seguir p’alante (keep pushing forward).

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

It’s completely normal to become frustrated when we are not seeing positive changes within our society. I felt this way several times in my community in Newark. I want to go back to the mantra that I referenced earlier and tell other people that change won’t get done if you are waiting on others to do it. An action, no matter how great or small, can have ripple effects towards meaningful change. The most important thing is that there is actual movement towards this positive impact.

How can our readers follow you online?

Happy to connect with people on Linkedin:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Mental Health Champions: Why & How Dr Jasmin Collazo of MindRight Health Is Helping To Champion… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.