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Mental health program for families adopts Spanish-language model
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De Familia a Familia

What: Orientation for Spanish-language support program for family members of those with mental illness

When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: First Baptist Church, room 233, 751 Green St., Gainesville

Details: A free 12-week program just for the family members of individuals with mental illness. Course includes review of common diagnoses, medications and other treatment options, as well as coping, communication and health care skills.

This Spanish-language program is modeled on the nationally recognized Family-to-Family program sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Educational materials are provided for free.

For more information, call or email Gigi Cautino with the Hall County affiliate of NAMI at 678-989-9653,

It is said that the mentally ill often suffer in silence.

For their family members and friends, the same can be true.

“It’s very difficult to know what to do, to understand what’s happening,” said Gigi Cautino, whose son was diagnosed years ago.

The turning point for Cautino came when she found a local support group just for family members of loved ones with mental illness.

“It was so incredibly helpful,” Cautino said.

That was 10 years ago.

Now, Cautino is leading the Spanish-language version of the Family-to-Family program, or De Familia a Familia, for the Hall County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

An orientation at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the First Baptist Church in Gainesville is free and open to the public.

Cautino said the program, a first of its kind in Georgia, provides a space for participants to speak openly about their experiences with family members who have mental illness.

There is “so much need,” Cautino said, given that Latinos make up about 42 percent of Gainesville’s population, and about 1 in 4 residents across Hall County.

Language barriers are one of the most prohibitive reasons why Latinos do not seek treatment for mental health issues at the same rates as their white counterparts, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Provider shortages plague the state.

Georgia, where an estimated 1.4 million residents have a mental health need, ranks low in spending on mental health agencies and last in the number of mental health professionals, with just one for every 1,440 residents.

And a recent report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute highlights a lack of mental health providers across Hall County and most of Northeast Georgia.

These numbers prompted state lawmakers this year to create a study committee on “mental illness initiative, reform, public health and safety.”

Resources are particularly lacking in large immigrant communities, such as Hall, Cautino said.

She also works as an interpreter at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, “So I’m very aware of the need for those who don’t speak English enough.”

The APA reports that even bilingual patients are evaluated differently when exams are performed in Spanish versus English, and Latinos are more frequently undertreated on the whole.

That’s why clarity is critical when discussing mental health issues and making informed decisions, Cautino said.
And that’s where the Family-to-Family program steps in.

Nationally, the program has “graduated” more than 115,000 family members of individuals with mental illness.

Cautino said the program is designed to “create an atmosphere of empathy” for the people who have “to deal with it day in and day out.”

That includes providing educational material, knowledge of local mental health care resources and support from those dealing with similar family health issues.

Cautino wants to make advocates out of participants, just as she became after completing the course she now teaches.

“(The mentally ill) need a voice,” she said. “They need an advocate. And that ends up being the family.”

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