For Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 we’re partnering with the Connecticut Historical Society and taking it way back every Thursday with #ThrowbackThursday to share a few stories of how people faced life’s challenges throughout history.

“I have no doubt you will continue with your strength. If you survived then, you will survive now…. Culture is the cure.”

Theanvy Kuoch, Director, Khmer Health Advocates (West Hartford, 2021)

Dr. Lillian Comas-Díaz was born in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to her parents’ native Puerto Rico when she was 6 and lived there into her early twenties. She attended college right around the time of second wave feminism and while Puerto Rico was going through the independence movement, and would read the second wave feminism literature secretly because she was told, if “you read in English, you were suspicious!” 

After receiving her Master’s degree and moving to CT she identified psychology’s limitations in addressing the needs of underserved populations and became an advocate for them. She delivered psychological services in schools, churches, and underserved populations.

To further help underprivileged groups, she enrolled in the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts. During her internship period, she developed community, education, and media programs on cultural awareness, antiracism, empowerment, and prevention. 

When she started working for APA in Washington DC in 1984, she saw that politics, organizations, and psychology go hand in hand. She also saw that all issues, such as gay and lesbian issues, public interest issues, and minority issues are all interrelated.  

“Culture is like the air we breathe — it really shapes everything, it permeates all life. Culture shapes the way we get sick, the way we interpret our distress, the way we think we’re going to heal, the way we see our healers,” she said during an interview about multicultural care. 

Comas- Díaz played a critical role in creating Division 45 of the APA, the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues. She became 45’s first treasurer and was the first editor-in-chief of its new journal, Cultural Diversity and Mental Health. This journal became a way for her to share the division’s rich oral history and to write about culture and diversity issues. 

“First of all, clinicians need to engage in cultural self-assessment — know thyself. Then they have to commit to an ongoing process of examining the realities of how culturally imbedded we are, we all are, patients and also clinicians,” she said.  

In 2019 Comas- Díaz was awarded the American Psychological Association Gold Medal Award for life achievement in the practice of psychology. 


Be a part of MHC’s history of supporting Connecticut residents for over 100 years, set up a fundraising page or making a donation today!  

Stay in touch with us on social media @mentalhealthct and keep up with our blog posts so you don’t miss a #ThrowbackThursday in May! 

Learn more about the faces of resilience by checking out the virtual tour of the Connecticut Historical Society exhibit, “Common Struggle, Individual Experience: An Exhibition About Mental Health”   

Intro label to the exhibit:  

The people in this exhibition faced the challenges of mental health. Some left fragments of a story, like letters or diaries, that only hint at their personal struggles. Others are boldly sharing their story today. Some found help. Some found healing. Some struggled till the end. Some changed history.