Yahaira Ruiz Ramirez is a proud Latinx woman from the Bronx, a committed mentor, social worker, and therapist for the youth. For the past two years, Ramirez has also served as a mentor for Girls Mentor Girls.
Ramirez attended Mercy College for her undergraduate education, studying
behavioral science and getting her bachelor's degree in 2019. During the pandemic, she saw an opportunity to pursue a master’s degree in social work at Hunter College. She graduated from Hunter College in 2022 and felt it was a journey within itself in terms of academics.
Ramirez grew up with her biological parents who adopted children who needed a home, which allowed her to see the outlook among family members and what it meant to work in the foster care system. While in school, she worked in foster care for 2 years. “Within working in the foster care system I noticed how many teenagers were so lost, because of broken homes, lack of support, and guidance,” Ramirez
said. “I just saw how much our youth of color were in need of guidance.”
Ramirez continued on her journey working in a shelter for runaway youth for girls and
saw how there was not much support for girls that looked like her. It made her want
to continue giving the support that she never had to them. She witnessed a lot of
mental health needs, generational trauma, food insecurity, and family instability,
which was constant. This led Ramirez to pursue becoming a therapist to provide
one-on-one services to teenagers.
She chose to work with teenagers because she felt that they were very impactful and
that you could connect with them in a way that they understand. Nurturing your
mental health is an ongoing journey that stems from multiple causes and seeking help
isn’t always easy. Everyone grows up differently and is challenged with different
obstacles. Ramirez defines mental health as the state you feel or look upon the world
and yourself. “I say state or feeling because it's often impacted by the environment.”
Conversations about mental health in many families are not talked about enough. It’s
just something we brush off. Ramirez pointed out that if someone is sad, or angry it is
often seen as someone having a bad day. When she said that it spoke to me and made
me realize as a person of color I could relate to that experience. Growing up in my
family there were not many conversations surrounding mental health. If any of my
siblings were going through something it was just seen as “you're going through a
phase, or you're having a moment.” With suicide on the rise, it has brought more
attention to how serious mental health is. People are starting to pay more attention
and are asking more questions. More families are now seeing what mental
health is rather than what they used to perceive it as.
Juggling many responsibilities can seriously affect anyone’s mental health when they
aren’t stopping and taking a moment for themselves. Ramirez takes care of herself
while on the job by being herself and recognizing that she’s there because she wants
“I come and I do things from the heart,” she said
She explains that having that mentality has helped her going forward. Her
experiences in the past, when she didn’t feel supported, influenced her to keep
providing support to other people because she didn’t want them to feel that way. We
all go through experiences that help us help each other. Which is where family comes
in or any type of support system. For Ramirez, her mom is her biggest support system
and is always checking on her with her workload or other responsibilities. Reading
and journaling have also helped her take care of herself along the way. Having those
loved one’s around is always precious.
Our youth’s mental health shouldn’t be taken lightly or anyone’s mental health for
that matter. We must look at the factors attacking our youth’s mental health. Ramirez
believes that the biggest factor affecting our youth's mental health is social media and
how it is perceived. Not only that but the fact that families lack having these serious
conversations about our mental health.“It starts at home, if your mom or dad or
sibling isn’t listening how do you know that somebody outside is going to listen to
you,” she said.
A lot of times we try our hardest to advocate for ourselves but if we don’t have a good support system then we feel as though we are stuck and there is no getting better. The school systems also play a role in improving mental health because it's overpopulated. And educators should be more sensitive to our youth and do more research. Ramirez thinks that many youths from children are automatically diagnosed with ADHD, or ODD, based on their behavior. Don't just look at the child look at the whole child’s environment to figure out where that specific behavior stems from. More research must be done to examine the underlying factors such, as family dynamics, housing insecurity, and food insecurity. “Those are things the children can’t control but are highly impacted when they become youth,” she said.
Many of us aren’t so open about our struggles within our families. And when we grow
up seeing how families struggle and don’t ask for help. We think that we have to
endure our battles alone. It becomes a continuous cycle of staying quiet for each
generation. So how do we get our youth to open up more about mental health needs?
Ramirez thinks that speaking their language, looking like them, and letting them
know you are here for them is a big part of getting them to open up. She wants them
to feel comfortable speaking their language, and know that she is “very big on letting
them know I'm on your team. ‘’
When our mental health is deteriorating it can cause us to come to an all-time low
and we may not even notice it. Ramirez believes that it all comes down to how you
are feeling. Being in tune with your thoughts and how your body is feeling is an
important part of recognizing when your mental health is deteriorating. Some known
signs that point to your mental health are headaches, heart racing, trouble sleeping,
or you notice yourself isolating. “There’s no specific way to tell because we are all
different.” Learning to check in with yourself will let you know what’s going on and
from there we can start taking those next steps to get our mental health back on
track. What are the next steps? For Ramirez, some beneficial coping skills would be
‘’to practice’’ being mindful and understanding what you can and can’t control, the
grounding method with your five senses, and learning how to breathe. It helps us ‘’sit
with ourselves and learn how to breathe and calm down our anger and anxiety.”
From there we can figure out what causes our mental health from triggering. It will
help us see the picture more clearly.
Everyone struggles with their mental health. For some, it is more difficult than most. We all have highs and lows but we have become more aware of the importance of our
mental health for our generation and future generations. More parents are paying attention to how school and the home environment can play a part in affecting our mental health.
“I hope that mental awareness will rise and I think it will strive but we need to
continue to add more resources for families and the school system,’’ Ramirez said. More in-class support and more real-life examples of mental issues. More social workers, and school counselors, and adding mental health education into the system will help us continue to move towards improving our mental health needs. We all have a voice and we are not alone. It is ok to ask for help and it's ok to not be ok.