While Mental Health Awareness was observed in May, the issue is often front-and-center for many Latinos and family members who support them in their mental health journey to recovery. 

Charlene Dimas-Peinado, is the President and CEO of Wellnest, a $32 million nationally-recognized trauma informed behavioral health and housing organization in Los Angeles. She is the first Latina President & CEO of Wellnest since its founding in 1924. 

Peinado provides overall leadership and strategic direction as it approaches 100 years of community service. In her career, Peinado has been inspired by the communities and people she serves. 

“Every child and family has a story and their stories have meaning and, like a ripple of water, they affect our community,” she said. “Our objective is to make a positive impact on those we serve — one that improves a life, improves our community.”

As a leader at Wellnest and the visionary behind its mission, Dimas-Peinado ensures the organization is financially, politically and operationally strong. In addition, the center provides behavioral health and housing services while meeting the changing needs of its communities.

Charlene holds a masters of Leadership from the University of Southern California, and a masters of Social Work from California State University, Long Beach. Peinado has now been in the mental health profession for 30 years. She has the experience and opportunity of working directly with the community, which has helped her understand the importance of mental health services in the community. More specifically, when there is trauma in a child’s or a family member’s life.

“75% of mental health disorders most likely present themselves between the ages of 24, and  50% of them present themselves before the age of 14,” Peinado said. “Trauma is usually the trigger of those mental health disorders.”

In 2022, she was appointed to the California Interagency Council on Homelessness Advisory Committee by the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary and California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary. Additionally, she serves on multiple boards including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Rotary LA5 and City Club LA.

CALÓ NEWS spoke to Peinado to discuss mental health awareness in the Latino community.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

CEO of Wellnest

Charlene Dimas-Peinado, Los Angeles, President & CEO of Wellnest, She/Her, Mexican-American


It’s really important to understand that mental health is important to every individual. Mental health has no boundaries, it doesn’t discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, age or even socioeconomic status. Mental health can happen to an individual. Most disorders happen when someone is confronted with a traumatic experience, whether it’s environmental, social, or genetic.

It’s important to understand that mental health is no different from any other health issue. Yet, it doesn’t get the equal standing it deserves. This is why mental health awareness is so important, so that we can all speak openly. When someone is experiencing a mental health disorder, it impacts their ability to function day to day. Some of those prevalent health disorders are anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. And when individuals are experiencing some of these disorders, we need to get them help at that moment because we can prevent them from becoming more severe, which again can impact their ability to function.

Mental health awareness and education help that individual understand that it’s OK to experience that mental health issue or disorder. It humanizes them and lets them know again that it’s OK to experience a mental health disorder. But what is important is that individuals have the opportunity to access help. That is what mental health awareness is all about education: understanding, empathy and compassion for any individual experiencing a mental health issue.


As it relates to the Latino community, there’s a lot of stigma around mental health. So, stigma exists across all communities, all ethnic groups and all religious groups. Stigma in the mental health context is shame, rejection, embarrassment, bullying, disorientation and feeling afraid.

Mental health is a significant global health crisis, and it often exists in secrecy and insured in isolation because of the stigma and because no one wants to talk about it. Living in secrecy about any issue that they’re having is causing them to suffer alone. And when an individual is suffering alone and is closed off by even their family members, that person can suffer even more and more tragic things can happen. Such as the severity of the disorder, which can lead to suicidal behavior, suicidal ideation and attempts that sometimes lead to successful suicides.  

Oftentimes, this is manifested by the stigma in communities of color. And the reason why we see this in communities of color and the Latino community is because there are a tremendous amount of cultural beliefs and norms. Specific to ethnicities and ethnic groups, such as the Latino community. Those cultural beliefs believe that mental health problems are viewed as a personal weakness and that is something that should be kept within the family and that is only a sign of shame and embarrassment to the family’s reputation. So, you often hear, “We don’t air our dirty laundry,” “Get over it,” or you hear “You’re crazy, estas loca.” And when you’re hearing that type of commentary, the first thing you do is withdraw and become more conservative about your personal issues or problems.

The way to end the stigma, is to have discussions about mental health awareness also by educating the communities. This is all critical to help with some of these cultural beliefs and norms that are common in many communities, especially the Latino community.


Oftentimes, mental health is still not a discussion happening at home. As of now, we are seeing a change with the new generation of younger Latinos. They feel more open and comfortable talking about mental health issues. Growing up, I didn’t see that as much in my generation. But that’s exactly what we recommend: to just speak openly about it and when people speak openly about it, we start to see change and support, and we get to ensure they are getting the help that they need. In order to normalize the discussion of mental health, we need to start changing the narrative. So, we can also start reducing the stigma in the way that it’s viewed culturally in the Latino community.


Work-life balance is very important to all of us. I mean, just imagine that you’re so overwhelmed with work because you have no vacation, no flexibility, burnout, working long hours and you are not able to step away from the job to take care of a loved one. Not being able to take care of a loved one means not being able to take care of your own personal well being as well. Not having that flexibility to take care of your own personal needs also means not having a good work-life balance . It’s very important that employers create environments for their employees that speak to mental health awareness and emphasize mental wellness. Because when the employees emphasize mental wellness, it provides overall well being. Companies need to create healthy work environments that support emotional and physical well being. Because by doing that, the employer creates more loyalty within the employees and they speak positively of them and stay longer with the company, along with being committed to the job.


If they have been recently diagnosed, it is because they sought out help when they needed it. Usually, the first thing you want to say to that person is to validate them because seeking out that treatment is the most important thing they could have done for themselves.

It’s also very important to support them in the way they want to be supported on that journey. You can help the individual by asking them what they need from the supporter, such as rides to therapy, or even letting your employer know what’s going on so that they can support you and give you flexibility to take care of your well-being.

It’s also a great opportunity to become educated about whatever that diagnosis is. For example, let’s say they were recently diagnosed with depression. You can help out that person by educating them or helping them with research on depression and what it means and what it looks like. Also, ways to cope with the diagnosis and ways to manage it. Some other ways of helping is by encouraging joining support groups, where there’s also other individuals, who can understand what that person is going through or experiencing depression. Support groups normally universalize and help them be around other people, who have also similar experiences or traumas with that particular mental health disorder. Again it validates, it normalizes and it universalizes what each individual is going through. It helps them with feeling good about themselves and also seeking help.


First, we have to normalize the fact that anyone who is experiencing a mental health illness is not uncommon and that it’s actually quite normal. If they’re saying that they’re afraid and are unsure who to talk to because of the fear of being misunderstood, not understood, labeled, etc., that’s usually what they are experiencing. Oftentimes, the person feels like even their own family won’t understand what they are going through. Others may think that their friends are going to make fun of them or think that there is something wrong with them. If someone comes to you for help, let them know that everything that they are experiencing right now and whatever those feelings are is normal and common. And when that person hears that, they will realize that it’s OK for them to feel that way.

The next thing you want to say to that person is “How can I help you” or “What can I do to help you.” Because every individual is going to say something different. You need to find out from them because again, everyone’s experience is different and unique depending on the situation, experiences, ethnicity, cultural beliefs and so many other factors. The only one who can really speak of that is that person. Oftentimes, we’ll see changes in a person’s behavior or even in the way they look. So, again, just let them know respectfully that you are there for them and that whenever they are ready to talk or seek help, you’ll be there alongside them.

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...