CHICAGO (CBS) – As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the Elgin duo are working to shed light on a growing health problem among the Hispanic population: suic*de.

CBS 2’s Marybel Gonzalez shows us how to reach families and break taboos to help those who struggle.

In the basement, Elgin and with one brushstroke Gabriel Vargas works to save a life.

“The vision is to provide a safe space for people who are certified to help these people understand that there is hope for a better future,” said Gabriela “Gabi” Vargas, founder of Poiema and the National Hispanic Suicide Prevention Network.

But the space called Poeima (Greek poem means “masterpiece”) goes far beyond teaching people to paint. This is where Gabriela, who has experience as a medical translator, breaks down cultural and linguistic barriers to educate families about suic*de prevention – specifically – Latinos like her – where she said it could be a taboo subject.

She fought suic*de and told her parents about it.

“As a Mexican immigrant, my parents survived. They loved and provided us, but they didn’t really have that education, ”said Vargas.

This is a growing problem in this demographic group. A 2022 study by New Mexico State University found that adult Latinos suic*de increased by more than 70% between 2010 and 2020.

“I wanted to commit suic*de when I was in the eighth grade.”

Alejandro Ramirez, a third-generation immigrant, understands this experience all too well. Alejandro “AJ” Ramirez is the co-founder of the National Hispanic Suicide Prevention Network.

“I just didn’t think I belonged to the world. I just felt alienated. “

But contact with Gabriela helped him find his place.

Now the duo work together to create National Latinos Suicide Prevention Network to reach Latinos who like them struggle with their mental health.

“It only takes one bad day and then, if you don’t have the support you can do, you just grow,” said Ramirez.

They offer art therapy classes and percussion circles led by instructors and certified Spanish and English speaking trainers.

Each session begins with a discussion of how families can best support their loved ones while waiting for an appointment with a therapist.

“If we can be a safe space for two to three months where people come and have someone to talk to. It makes a big difference, ”said Vargas.

“When I’m in a bad mental state and go to college, it’s very uplifting,” said Cathie Cook, a suic*de victim and Poeima volunteer.

Gabriela and Alejandro now hope to spread suic*de prevention efforts from the basement of an art studio to schools and homes in their community.

“We all go through this. We all know someone who has either tried or thought about it. “

if you or someone you know needs help, call 9-8-8. It is the new lifeline for suic*des and crises.

Another event for National Latinos Suicide Prevention Network is happening next week. you can go to our website cbschicago.com to learn more about the organization.

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