By Malie Hudson
RIVERSIDE—A team of over 30 behavioral health specialists and medical professionals treated 263 parishioners during a free clinic held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Riverside on April 30.
The clinic is part of a pilot program and a partnership between the Diocese, OLPH, the Department of Psychiatry at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and the Riverside University Health System (County of Riverside Health Department).
The program was an answer to concerns about anxiety and fear surrounding immigration issues that OLPH Pastor, Father Miguel Ceja, observed in his parishioners. During a Sunday Mass, he asked churchgoers if any of them experienced emotional distress.
“Maybe 80 percent of the community raised their hands,” said Fr. Ceja. “I was not surprised but I was expecting a lower number. So my concern was that I have to do something about it.”
One phone call and several meetings later with a friend, Dr. Carlos Fayard, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, led to a series of presentations on mental health at the parish and questionnaires for parishioners after Sunday Masses in April.
“The idea for this event came from the designation by the World Health Organization (WHO) of this year’s world health day to be dedicated to depression,” said Dr. Fayard. “According to WHO, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18 percent between 2005 and 2015.
A lack of support for people with mental disorders, coupled with a fear of stigma, prevents many from accessing the treatment they need to live healthy, productive lives.”
Sister Chilee Okoko, Director of the Department of Life, Dignity and Justice at the Diocese, has also been working to raise awareness about mental health needs among the people of the Diocese. She is representing the Diocese in the pilot project at OLPH.
“The goal is to provide mental health services to the marginalized, poor people who may not be able to get these basic services or afford them,” she said. “This will be the first time a healthcare institution, like Loma Linda and Riverside University Health System, are focusing on a particular parish in the Diocese to offer such services.”
Riverside University Health System brought a mobile clinic and the parish and school facilities were set up to provide spaces for group and individual counseling.
Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire and rate their concerns based on a numerical scale. The numbers were tabulated and parish volunteers organized participants in groups according to the level of risk based on their numbers. High-risk participants were sent to receive individual therapy.
“I personally guided a person who reported having suicidal ideas every day,”
said Dr. Fayard. “I also met with an undocumented immigrant family where every member was suffering in significant ways, from major depressive disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.”
Teresa Perez and her husband were one of the married couples that was treated that day.
“It was very helpful and a blessing because my husband and I have been having a lot of issues and it’s so expensive to pay for any kind of counseling. So we took a free hour and the doctor was amazing,” she said. “He didn’t treat us differently than a paying patient. He gave us a lot of ideas to reinforce what we need to do for our marriage.”
Prior to the event, the team did a pre-event screening. Dr. Fayard said that in addition to many struggling with depression, there were also high numbers of substance abuse and domestic violence reports.
“Because the Spanish-speaking population is perhaps among the most vulnerable in our community, our team concentrated on reaching out to them,” he said.
But Fr. Ceja said that everyone was welcomed to receive services. Basic medical care was also provided that day.
“We expressed that it was focused on the uninsured. There were some who were afraid and didn’t have resources so we wanted to make sure they were the main ones to be served,” said Fr. Ceja.
Participants who needed continued help were given referrals to other clinics and contact information to other social services.
“Now, the next step will be to do a general evaluation of the day,” said Fr. Ceja. “And then we will decide what’s the next step based on the results of the evaluation. We are hoping that with this pilot program we can extend the services to other parishes in Riverside County with a focus on the uninsured.”
Malie Hudson is a freelance writer based in Riverside.