Charles Laloma, 52, sits at his computer in the LDM Network studio in Mott Haven. By Amanda Kari McHugh.

About eight people gathered in a small studio on Canal Place in Mott Haven in February to share stories about a topic Bronx native Charles LaLoma doesn’t think gets talked about enough: mental health.

“I’m not too shy to say it, but I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and sleep disorder, since I was younger. I’m laughing ‘cause we don’t know we had depression when we were young. It was, ‘stay still,’” he said. “Stop that crying.”

Yet the 52-year-old, who describes himself as “26×2,” knows how to speak to an audience, as he’s the co-host of The LDM Show, a talk show on the network he founded, LDM Network, which stands for LaLoma Digital Magazine. What started as an online magazine has grown into a multi-media network with its own Roku TV Channel. After 13 years, he’s merging his passion for mental health advocacy with media production.

The event was held specifically to raise awareness about depression and suicide, as well as announce a support group he’s launching to help those in need in the South Bronx. He feels as though hosting that event was coming full circle, since he started the magazine to get out of his own depression, by keeping his mind busy.

Lyssy Pastrana talks about her experiences with depression and losing her daughter to suicide seven months ago. By Amanda Kari McHugh.

He wants to fight the stigma against mental health issues, so he encouraged others to share their story as well. Lyssy Pastrana, 61, a photographer who has worked with LDM, came up to the mic to talk about how she is coping with the loss of her adult daughter, who died by suicide seven months ago.

“Did I see any signs? I don’t think so,” said Pastrana, before bringing up her own battle with depression. While she’s tried therapy and medication, learning more about depression is what she found to be most beneficial.

Both Pastrana and LaLoma said there’s a generational stigma to being open about mental health. That stigma is often compounded for men, and especially Latinos, said LaLoma.

“The machismo part comes out of it and that’s why a lot of people don’t speak about it in the Latin community,” he said. “Some people, I guess confuse the sensitive and emotional with depression. So maybe they have depression, but they’d be like, ‘No, I don’t want to be emotional.’ That’s not really what it is.”

This sentiment is echoed by his long-time collaborator, William James Davis III.

“The Bronx is full of mostly, you know, diverse people. And a lot of our backgrounds, cultures, and whatnot is like a denial of the seriousness of mental health,” Davis said.

Thirteen percent of the Latinx adult population in the city struggles with depression, compared to 7 percent of white adults and 8 percent of Black adults, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The prevalence of depression was higher in the Bronx, at 12 percent, compared to Manhattan at 7 percent and Brooklyn at 8 percent.

Yet studies have shown that providers in the Bronx are lacking, which is one reason why LaLoma is starting a weekly anonymous mental health support group. He found support groups to be a huge help to him while he was living in Pennsylvania, but had a hard time finding them in the Bronx. He’s hoping to fill that gap to help people realize that they aren’t alone in their struggles.

“I feel better if I’m sitting next to someone speaking,” he said. “So, you got a couple of strangers sitting in a group and you all become friends, because of one bonding moment.”

The February event was the first time LDM Network focused on these issues, but it’s not the first Laloma has opened up about it. He said he would teach his martial arts students how to apply what they were learning to anxiety and depression. He would also occasionally bring awareness to it on LDM Radio, in a light-hearted, relatable way, not unlike how he approached speaking to the audience at the Launch event.

Jonathan Aikens, whose artist name is Jae Sam, opens up for the first time in public about his struggles with mental health, the recent loss of his mother and what he’s learned from therapy. By Amanda Kari McHugh.

Toward the end of the event, LaLoma called on a speaker who nervously walked up to the mic to speak about his experiences with depression for the first time out in the open. He’s an LDM-award-winning local musician who goes by the name of Jae Sam, but introduced himself by his given name, Jonathan Aikens.

“What I learned from therapy is just take everything a day at a time,” Aikens said. “Do not chip yourself away. You are here for a purpose.”

The small crowd applauded him as LaLoma said, “It’s not that often you see a big man like that be soft, right?”

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to for a list of additional resources.

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