Therapy is like going to the dentist: Alex Padilla shares family struggles as mental health caucus launches

WASHINGTON On their first date, California Sen. AlexPadilla and his wife Angela were waiting to order food when she said she needed to tell him something. Over the next few hours, she shared what it was like growing up with a mother who struggled with hospitals, doctors and insurance for years because of her mental health.

At the time he received the check, Padilla said he told Angela, “I can imagine that this is difficult for the family and it can be quite sensitive.” We just met each other; Trust me, I can be discreet.

But to his surprise, that wasn’t what she wanted: She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he should use his position in the state Legislature to do something about the problem. that topic.

Now, Padilla is taking on that task for the U.S. Senate. He announced Tuesday that he and three other senators are forming the chamber’s first mental health caucus, a group dedicated to reducing mental health stigma, improving quality of care and expanding the mental health workforce.

Sen. Alex Padilla’s mother-in-law, Maria Guadalupe Alcaraz, meets with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Courtesy of Senator Alex Padilla

The new caucus was formed after a shock wave to American politics: Sen. John Fetterman’s announcement, shortly after winning a controversial race, that he had applied to the Central Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment of severe depression. Since then, he has received worldwide attention for his outspokenness on the subject.

Fetterman is one of 10 members of the new caucus that includes five Democrats and five Republicans (though Padilla said he has been approached by other senators who want to join).

For the first time, Padilla and his wife spoke in detail to the Chronicle about his mother-in-law’s type 1 schizoaffective disorder, its impact on their family and the senators sharing their personal stories how it can lead to change for people living with this disease. mental illness.

“It’s always been really important to talk about this issue with everyone, anyone in my life,” said Angela Padilla, president of the mental health advocacy nonprofit FundaMental Change. My family never approached it in a way that they wanted us to stay quiet about it. Growing up in a Mexican family, there was sometimes a huge stigma surrounding mental illness. And I know many other families wouldn’t approach it this way.

Angela Padilla said it took time to find the right regimen, but her mother, Maria Guadalupe Alcaraz, has been disease-free for eight years. She said finding the right doctor, one who has taken the time to not only overprescribe but also do all the work that goes into finding what the right balance is, is key. important.

Angela Padilla and her mother, Maria Guadalupe Alcaraz

Angela Padilla and her mother, Maria Guadalupe Alcaraz

Courtesy of Senator Alex Padilla

It was by chance that they found that doctor. Alex Padilla said Angela Padilla attended an event where she reconnected with Alcaraz’s former doctor from many years ago. The doctor reviewed a list of six drugs at the time, he said, but kept changing them and worked to narrow the list down to the two that Alcaraz really needed.

Alex Padilla credits his mother-in-law’s stability over the past eight years to consistency. In the past, we’ve had major life events that could sometimes make her agitated. Like when (Angela) was pregnant with Alex or like when we got married because the rush of emotions causes chemicals and chemical reactions in the body to take place. So continued stability is very, very good for her.

However, the use of that drug is not to be taken for granted. It’s affordable, but it has a potential barrier: weekly blood work once you start taking the drug. A lot of doctors wouldn’t prescribe it because of the amount of work and commitment from the family, but for Alcaraz, it worked wonders, Angela Padilla said.

When the pandemic hit, Angela Padilla said she worried about how her mother would be affected by all the changes. And it’s the exact opposite. She said she has weathered the pandemic better than most people I know.

During the pandemic, her family’s world was turned upside down when, in January 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to the Senate.

Suddenly, I was traveling cross-country. So it’s one thing for a child to have separation anxiety when they’re at school or maybe their parents are out to dinner. It’s a completely different thing to travel across the country with a very clear job, he said.

Angela Padilla said she signed up for therapy. Since my husband is abroad, having someone to talk to is really important for me.

She also kept a close eye on their three sons, Roman, Alex and Diego, who were severely affected and also sent them for therapy.

They are all going through different things. But for me, therapy is like going to the dentist. You go to the dentist twice a year or more to get your teeth checked and cleaned. For me, it’s the same, says Angela Padilla. When we see that they need help or are having difficulty in a certain area, we do not hesitate.

Family closeness has helped them weather the storm of the pandemic, mental illness and the difficulties of a cross-border relationship. Everyone who works near me knows my first call in the morning is always her, my last call at the end of the day. And for me, just talking to Angela and the kids has given me a better perspective on life, Alex Padilla said.

Fetterman and Padilla aren’t the only ones sharing their personal experiences with mental illness.

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., spoke publicly in 2019 about her struggles with depression in college and as a young mother, telling the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, I started to feel weird that I didn’t just say, Hey, I personally related to her saying this when discussing this issue as a legislator.

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, co-chairman of the Republican caucus, said he too is struggling.

One in five people have a behavioral health problem. “I am one of them,” Tillis told reporters Tuesday. Back when I was diagnosed in 2007, there was a medication regimen you could use to help put my disease into remission. That left me with drug-induced mania for about two or three months, followed by deep depression for about six to eight weeks while I was coping, working, and raising a family.

Padilla said their top priority is ensuring the provisions of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 are properly implemented. The Act includes requirements to create school-based mental health services programs, increase access to behavioral health telemedicine services for Medicaid enrollees, and provide training for mental health services in schools. Additional creation and funding of mental health services.

Padilla acknowledged that growing awareness means more people are seeking help and not finding available health care professionals, so expanding the workforce needs to be a priority. Top.

Even for those who can afford it, says Angela Padilla, “there are simply not enough providers, doctors, not enough people who can provide the type of support and treatment that many people in need”.

For all we have done in recent years to raise awareness, overcome stigma, encourage people to seek help, it would be cruel to suggest that everyone seek help. support and help was not available to them in a timely manner, Padilla told reporters. .

Reach Shira Stein:; Twitter: @shiramstein

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