On June 11, FundaMental Change hosted its 4th annual Mental Health Symposium live from Discovery Cube, Los Angeles (DCLA) in Sylmar, CA. This year’s theme was “Moving Forward Together with Purpose,” which focused on supporting families who have experienced financial, physical, and emotional challenges due to the Cocis-19 pandemic. 

FundaMental Change is an organization that focuses on mental health. FundaMental Change aims to “increase awareness and eliminate the stigma associated with mental health conditions, to improve access to quality care for individuals living with a mental illness, and to better support their caregivers,” as stated in their website. In addition, they offer resources that stem from suicide prevention, support groups, financial assistance, Covid-19 prevention, caretaking and other non-government resources. 

In this year’s symposium, attendees got to hear from experts on the importance of raising awareness and breaking the stigma of mental illness. The event hosted a total of nine speakers, including Blake Bolden from the Los Angeles Kings; NBC4 News reporter Michelle Valles; and Dr. Ilan Shapiro, Faculty Lead for Health Education & Civic Engagement at AltaMed Health Services, one of the nation’s largest community health networks. They spoke about the importance of using supportive resources that can help people who are living with mental illness. 

Angela Padilla, the founder and president of FundaMental Change, spoke about the economic, societal, and mental health impacts that the pandemic brought. She said many families in LA experienced at least one of these emotions: stress, anxiety, isolation or grief. She added that for her, the only good thing about the pandemic was the increased acknowledgement that people were having towards well-being and “brain health,” as she called it. “FundaMental Change is here to do our part to advance awareness, understanding, support, and care,” she said.

United States Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) said advocating for mental health and providing additional resources is a top priority in California law and legislation. Padilla said it is important to identify the needs of local communities in order to prioritize those needs. Although there are several problems on a national level, he said those in the Senate, like himself, make mental health a priority by trying to find ways to invest in supporting families across the country. He said that’s why it’s important for people to raise awareness and tell their stories so that they can invest in the right resources.

Another speaker was Tony Cárdenas, California’s 29th Congressional District representative, who talked about the new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that launches on July 16, 2022 and is now available for anyone in the U.S. The hotline, which will be reachable by dialing 988, is intended for those in need of assistance during a mental health crisic, including suicide. The hotline is free of cost and is available all over the country. “Many of us at the city level, at the county level, at the federal level, and at every level of government are doing what we can to empower local families, local communities, and community organizations to finally end the stigmas and also have the resources, so that when someone is in crisis they can get help,” said Cárdenas.

California State Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-San Fernando Valley) shared how mental health has always been a necessity in the city of Los Angeles. According to Rivas, four years ago when she was campaigning door-to-door, the number one issue that was brought up was mental health. Now that she is in leadership position, she gets to vote on mental health programs and makes sure it’s inserted into the state’s budget. “My job in the State Assembly is to make sure [mental health services] come to this community, the North East San Fernando Valley,” she said.

Latinos were the biggest ethnic group that suffered unemployment during the pandemic, according to the latest National Public Radio poll, with about 70% of Latinos in L.A. experiencing financial problems and other economic impacts.. These high numbers are what inspired Nury Martinez, the first woman president of the Los Angeles City Council, to help her community. During the pandemic, Martinez noticed the negative impact Covid-19 was having on her community and started organizing food pantries, distributing food to people in her community.

Martinez spoke about a single father whom she met at one of the food pantries. The father of four small children recently lost his job, had no source of income, with the entire family living out of their car. He couldn’t even afford to wash his family’s clothes at a laundromat, washing them by hand in a sink. Martinez said there were many other people living like him in the city of L.A. who could not afford basic necessities. Martinez partnered with laundromats in the community, renting them out on Saturdays and Sundays so that the community could have free laundry services.

Another vulnerable group was young children, with their stress levels rising along with that of their parents. Martinez emphasized the struggle that many families went through while isolating at home, especially those families who had kids that were learning a new language at school. “English learners were struggling to learn, especially the young ones,” Martinez said. Many parents who are Spanish speakers were struggling with having their kids at home, including navigating the technology and not understanding the language in their children’s homework. She explained how drastic changes can have a long-lasting effect on children, especially when a parent loses their job. 

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, speaker Dr. Jose Cardenas shared his own personal story and experience with mental health. At the age of 12, Cardenas lost his favorite brother who drowned in Rosarito, Mexico. By the age of 16, Cardenas was afraid he was going to die, too. It was these life experiences that pushed Dr. Cardenas to work towards breaking the stigma on mental health, saying that it starts by being vulnerable and reading one’s emotions, especially in difficult situations. He also wants to break that cycle of apologizing for crying and saying “I’m fine” when the person is not fine.

Franklin Romero, who works in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, encourages young people to help their elders access resources, including helping them navigate free bilingual apps like Mindful USC, which can be used for meditation. 

At the symposium, FundaMental Change announced a partnership DCLA, which recently  launched “Emotions at Play with Pixar’s Inside Out,” an interactive exhibit based on the award-winning film that helps visitors – young and old – understand the important role emotions, memory, and imagination play in everyday lives. The exhibit focuses on the five core emotions featured in the film – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. The exhibit also gives visitors a hands-on and a digital experience offering opportunities to explore some of the ways emotions are expressed, while recognizing emotions in others. The exhibit is open until September 11, 2022.

For more information on the DCLA interactive exhibit and to browse through FundaMental Change services, visit their website HERE.

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...