Aguinaldo’s honor is about advancing mental health awareness

Crystal Aguinaldo is a Peer Coach, a Network of Care Peer Educator, an active member of Friendship House, a Wellness Recovery Action Program Facilitator, a member of the Kaua‘i Service Area Board and co-chair of the Consumer, Family and Youth Hui on Kaua‘i.

She was presented a special certificate of recognition for the honor of being selected the Outstanding Adult Consumer Advocate during the Celebration of Hawai‘i’s Mental Health Heroes earlier in the month by Mental Health America of Hawai‘i, the accolades being offered during a luncheon at the Ala Moana Hotel on O‘ahu.

“She was at the ceremony, but Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. wanted to acknowledge her work at home,” said Sharlene Li Fah hun-Lum, chief project diector of the Mental Health Transformation program Thursday during the 2012 Consumer, Family and Youth Alliance Mental Health Conference at Kaua‘i Community College.

Aguinaldo said being selected as the Adult Mental Health Consumer Advocate is a great opportunity for Kaua‘i to go forward with the Mental Health movement and isolating and deleting stigma.

“There were 400 people who attended this prestigious event,” Aguinaldo said. “It was definitely a teary-eyed moment of happiness and appreciation. In representing Kaua‘i for the past four years, I have and will continue to bring beneficial information, resources and opportunities back to Kaua‘i to see the mental health movement push forward.”

She said Kaua‘i is an Outer Island and would like to make sure she stays focused on deleting stigma, creating healthy relationships and improving the quality of life while living with a mental disease which she equates to managing diabetes or a heart condition.

The day-long conference, funded by the Olmstead Grant, the State Council on Mental Health Block Grant and Mental Health Transformation State Incentive Grant, was an opportunity for consumers, family and service providers to get together and learn, said Chun-Lum.

“We want to empower people who have mental health issues and get others to seek help,” she said.

Mental health is the focus of President Barrack Obama’s New Freedom Commission which declared that mental disorders affect the mental health of people of all backgrounds, in all stages and no one is immune, states a proclamation issued by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz in recognition of May being Mental Health Month.

The Transformation grant resulted from this presidential declaration and Aguinaldo said the Thursday’s conference is one of the last project of the three-year grant.

Mental health is the most prevalent health problem in America today, more than cancer, lunch and heart disease combined, the World Health Organization finding that mental illnesses ranked first in terms of all illnesses in the United States, the gubernatorial proclamation states.

“Do More for 1 in 4” is one oftwo themes for the 2012 Mental Health Month, states the Mental Health America website. The theme is a call to action to help the 1 in 4 American adults who live with a diagnosable, treatable mental health ondition and the fact they can go on to live full and productive lives.

One in 10 keiki has a serious mental health disorder that, if untreated, can lead to physical illness, substance abuse and even suicide.

The second theme of Mental Health Month 2012 is “Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds,” focusing on the impact of traumatic events on individuals and communities and centers around the person-based question “What happened to you?”

One of the keys to helping the keiki is the Foster Grandparent program offered by the State of Hawai‘i Department of Human Services.

“We have 36 on Kaua‘i and we need more,” said Leona Ching. “At one time, we had one man, but he pulled out. We need men and women.”

Ching, who was enjoying the conference with other Foster Grandparents, said the children love the attention they bestow on the keiki who are not able to get affection from parents who are busy working several jobs and trying to make ends meet.

The proclamation further states that mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety disorders are real, treatable illnesses and the U.S. Surgeon General has found that a range of mental health treatments exist for most mental disorders.

“I had severe depression,” Aguinaldo said. “But now, I am going to work for certification in substance abuse. The CSAC program is being offered by the University of Hawai‘i in Hilo, but through television, I am reporting to KCC in the fall to start the certification process here at home.”

More information can be found Saturday when Friendship House, who coordinated the snacks, breakfast and lunch for the conference, will host its annual free Mental Health Fair from 10 a.m. at Kukui Grove Center with information and entertainment.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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