MILWAUKEE — The Sixteenth Street Community Health Center has been at the heart of healthy communities on the south side of Milwaukee for 50 years.
Six years ago, a new program was formed to deal with the increase of suicidal thoughts among Latinas.
Self-Esteem, Empowerment, Empathy and Discovery of Self (SEEDS) is a 16-week program helping young teens navigate mental health issues.
According to a 2018 study done by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the overall U.S. suicide rate is 14.2 people per 100,000. That includes all races, but the Hispanic suicide rate is 7.4 people per 100,000, making it disproportionately higher.
Much like what research across the country shows, here in Milwaukee, Licensed Social Worker at Sixteenth Street Melissa Waldo saw disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues, primarily suicidal thoughts, among Latinas at Sixteenth Street Community Health Center.
"Our Latina youth, adolescents, early adolescents were experiencing what seemed to be disproportionately higher rates of mental health issues," Waldo said. "SEEDS really emphasizes the importance of recognizing how you feel and expressing it in healthy ways."
America who did not want her last name included is your typical teenager she enjoys spending time with her siblings and is preparing for all things high school has to offer.
But, deep inside she battled with severe depression brought on by many different stressors, including bullying at school.
"I felt very isolated. I would be around people all the time, but I just felt like going to my room," America said. " I got really skinny. I couldn't sleep. I was crying all the time. Thats is when I knew I needed help."
America resorted to cutting to cope with the internal battles she was facing, even contemplating ending her own life.
"Growing up in like a low-income neighborhood and a low-income family that's not necessarily labeled as trauma but to me it was worrying to see my family struggle with money," America said.
So, she started meeting with Waldo for one-on-one sessions until being told about SEEDS. She said she was reluctant at first but gave it a chance anyway.
Her outlook began to change slowly but surely once she started to attend the SEEDS program.
"It would just be me looking forward to Monday you know Monday at 4:30," Waldo smiled.
Each Monday Waldo said she would do a check-in with the girls and teach them about different mental health topics, but the group setting was instrumental for healing.
"I think it's empowering them to then say, 'I've gone through that too and this is what I did, or this is what's helpful for me," Waldo said. "It was nice hearing what other people were going through and like knowing I wasn't alone," America added.
America finished the program and smiles now as she said she does not cut anymore to cope.
"The information I learned is very valuable to me." America said. "I have it in my mind all the time."
Waldo said when the girls begin the program they are shy and nervous, but at the end of the program they form friendships.
"I am in awe of the resilience and the strength and the beauty within such young people and their courageous fight to keep going," Waldo said.
America credits this program with saving her life and giving her new ways to cope.
If you are in need of help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.