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Karla's Story: Illuminating the Path to Mental Health Advocacy with the Healthy Minds Alliance

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Karla Garza

In a world where mental health struggles are prevalent but deeply misunderstood, there is a group of dedicated individuals who serve to educate their community on navigating the stigmatized topic of mental health. These are the inspiring alumni of the Healthy Minds Alliance, a program under AmeriCorps that provides crucial mental health education to community members and professionals. For those who choose to join the Healthy Minds Alliance, the decision is one of unwavering commitment to impact the mental health landscape in America.

To be an AmeriCorps member is to give communities the resources to advocate for themselves. This requires faith that education is the key to change, which is at the heart of every alumni story. Someone who has gone through the service experience with the Healthy Minds Alliance will forever be transformed, leaving behind an impact that, in turn, transforms the minds of others. Among these courageous alumni is Karla, a resilient woman who is determined to enact change.

“I see this work as a butterfly effect. I’m helping people learn the skills to help others in need.”

Karla’s story speaks to the profound impact that the alumni of the Healthy Minds Alliance have on facilitating positive change like a ripple effect. There’s no way to measure how many minds have been changed, or even how many lives have been saved, by alumni like Karla. As we delve deep into the heart of Karla’s service and experiences, we uncover a story that echoes with dedication and hope.

Every journey has roots, and Karla’s story starts fresh out of college. After studying psychology, she was ready to find professional opportunities in the field of mental health. She describes applying for Healthy Minds Alliance as a process that made her nervous.

“It was the first time I ever taught others,” she explains. However, she changed her perspective to make this an opportunity for growth. The first thing she decided was to go in prepared. “I did tons of research into Mental Health First Aid,” she says.

She’s eager to explain her process, saying, “I looked into the host site I would be participating in to see what they did.” She ended up being placed at the mid-Rio Grande Border Area Health Education Center in Laredo, Texas. “It was a really amazing time there, I got to learn so much.” Although her role was primarily to teach Mental Health First Aid, she makes it clear that her service was much more than that.

The path of service does not come without challenges, however. For Karla, there is a personal connection to mental health. She describes past relationships with veterans who have PTSD, an experience that is reflective of the mental health crisis in the underserved veteran population.

In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 73% of veterans seeking care for serious mental illness in 2019 received treatment, leaving 308,000 veterans without care.

Consider that the majority of veterans do not adequately report symptoms of mental illness for fear of perceived weakness, and that statistic grows. Karla reflects on her personal experience with veterans she loves and expresses that she wants to “take action and be part of the solution,” helping them on their journey to recovery.

During service, when faced with stress, she did her best to apply the self-care strategies she was teaching others every day. She says that in this process of self-exploration, she became more vulnerable and honest with loved ones. In times of emotional distress to her loved ones, she became a safe person. “I always utilized everything that I learned when I encounter family members or friends that are struggling now,” she says earnestly. She seems grateful that her family and friends “reach out now to vent or seek comfort” because of her knowledge.

Karla’s growth is an incredible testament to the power of service through education. As she guided others through the complexities of mental health awareness, she also underwent her own metamorphosis. The most notable area of growth for Karla was her confidence when it came to public speaking.

She goes back to the anxiety she felt on day one when she had no experience. “When I started, I would speak to groups of 10–15 people. At the end of my service, I was speaking to over 200 people in seminars and workshops.” When asked how that made her feel, seeing that incredible shift in confidence, she said simply, “It was amazing.” The skills Karla honed became tools of empowerment, and the broader perspective she taught amplified her impact.

When asking Karla questions about her service experience, one question gave her pause. It was about her legacy - what did she think was the impact she was leaving behind? After a thoughtful pause, she began explaining how profoundly the experience impacted her career once the service period ended. “Well,” she begins, “I found that people would reach out to me after training to thank me. But not only that, they would then take me on to teach Youth Mental Health First Aid to their colleagues or students.”

Her service experience translated directly into a career upon completion. Amazingly, Karla continued working at her host site, which hired her as a Special Projects Coordinator. She has a list of responsibilities that she loves to do, including “being part of mental health committees, going out to the high schools and middle schools and teaching about our programs, recruiting individuals, [...] and continued public speaking.”

Karla’s journey of service with the Healthy Minds Alliance is a beacon of change in a society where people struggle in silence. Her compassionate commitment to mental health education has illuminated a path toward breaking the silence surrounding this stigmatized issue. At the heart of this process is sitting in a room with each other and having hard conversations about unpleasant topics. “But,” Karla reminds us, “I see this work as a butterfly effect. I’m helping people learn the skills to help others in need.”

Looking ahead, the alumni of the Healthy Minds Alliance envision a future where the stigma surrounding mental health continues to diminish. A future where more people feel comfortable seeking help and conversations about mental health are commonplace. The path of service is a challenging but rewarding one that every AmeriCorps alumni has walked. Their journeys serve as a reminder that each one of us has the power to make a difference by fostering a more compassionate and understanding world.

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