Name: Dominique Espinoza
Title: Mental Health Counselor / Activist
Company: Despi Psícologia
Current Location: Machala, Ecuador
Global Leaders Program (GLP): 2017
You studied psychology as an undergrad, what encouraged you to apply to the GLP?
After undergrad, I looked to pursue a combined Master’s & Ph.D. program in clinical psychology with Florida International University, which required a 5-year commitment I was unsure about. I felt that I needed to get out of Miami to broaden my horizon before applying to the program. I asked my adviser at FIU for insight on a program that would allow me to experience a different world and get a taste of what an alternative career path could look like.
My intention has always and will always be to help people, and when she mentioned the Global Leaders Program with CHLI, it aligned with everything I was looking for that covered topics I was passionate about. Although I wasn’t involved in politics at the time, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the government and politics. Simultaneously, the 2016 elections were happening that year, so I knew that although working in politics was not my end goal, I needed to be properly educated and civically engaged.
What was your journey like after completing the GLP?
The best way I can put it into words is that before going to D.C., I was “blind” about many issues affecting our world and communities. Through the program, I was able to gain a vision and develop a deeper sense of my purpose.I realized there was more than one way of helping others, so I decided to keep working in public service and focus on issues I deeply care about like immigration, healthcare, mental health awareness, etc.
Right after I completed the program, I landed a job with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) as her deputy scheduler and transitioned to work with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). Most recently, I had the opportunity to work for Cory Booker’s presidential campaign, as the Special Assistant to the National Political Director and the Latinx Liaison at the headquarters.
What inspired you to launch Despi Psícologia? What were some of the challenges you faced?
When the campaign ended, I needed some time off so I decided to travel through Argentina and Brazil with my mother. After my trip, I planned to return to D.C. to start applying for jobs and graduate school. However, a week into our vacation, Covid-19 broke out and we were stuck in Argentina for six weeks. The country went into complete lockdown, no return flights were available and we had no idea when we would be able to travel back home.
“Unfortunately, past generations have been raised to think these topics were off-limits. It’s on us to educate them and also understand that this topic is going to be an ongoing dialogue.”
Just like everyone, I was concerned about what this pandemic meant for my future. I was scared, anxious, and trapped. I decided to reach out to friends and family, to learn about how they were dealing with the pandemic in their respective countries. Soon I realized there was a common theme, everyone I spoke with was feeling scared, anxious, and/or depressed. Since I already had a degree in Psychology, and the University of Argentina was offering free courses online, I decided to complete online counseling courses. It made sense to dedicate time to learn and apply my knowledge to help my friends and family cope through these difficult times.
At first, Despi Psicologia started as a passion project and after I finished my certifications, I decided to make it official and launch an online mental health service page where I could virtually connect with others via Instagram and Facebook. This project was challenging because of how quickly it launched and all the skills I had to develop for it, including graphic design, marketing, budgeting, and client strategy.
Health and wellness are an important topic and you are using your platforms to connect with the Hispanic community. What advice would you give about breaking the stigma of mental health talk?
I would say that we are at a breaking point in our society, in which not only our physical health has become invaluable but paying attention to our mental health has become unavoidable. Being forced to isolate in quarantine and social distance from one another has given us the time and space to be with ourselves and listen to our thoughts. For some of us, this was the very first time we were forced to face depression and deal with a constant state of anxiety, but now we were also limited to the ways we could keep ourselves distracted.
It’s the perfect time to break the stigma in the Latinx community. How can we do this? By speaking up, normalizing mental health talk, and asking for help. For many years, Latinos have treated depression, anxiety, and other illnesses with prayers, disregard, and disbelief. The best thing we can do is have these conversations with our family members and our loved ones and be honest with our struggles. The more we open up, the more we realize that others most likely have experienced similar symptoms. My other advice would be: Be patient. Unfortunately, past generations have been raised to think these topics were off-limits. It’s on us to educate them and also understand that this topic is going to be an ongoing dialogue.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Be fearless and work hard! Right now, it may feel like it is the worst time to start on a project or to chase a dream, but in reality, there is no such thing as perfect timing. If you have a dream, and you are passionate, disciplined, and have a good work ethic, the sky’s the limit.
Where can we find you online and learn more about your work?
You can follow me at @despi_psicologia on Instagram and Facebook.
Favorite pastime? Dancing.
Mood-boosting song? Any Bad Bunny song.
If you could have lunch with any person, who would it be and why? I would love to chat with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and get a sense of how she stays so positive regardless of all the negativity that is thrown her way. I love her background story and I identify with her on many levels. To me, she is the definition of a strong and independent Latina, which is why I consider her to be one of my role models.