Mental Health and the Stigma in the Latinx Community

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May is Mental Health Awareness month and talking about mental health is extremely important. It is as important as discussing topics that would normally be talked about when it comes to wellness.

In the Latino community, Mental Health is still somewhat of a stigma and it is rare for someone to admit that there are depression or anxiety symptoms arising. Most Latinos were raised to suck it up and keep going or to be strong for their family.

Most of the times Latinos can tend to experience their depression by stating they are feeling tired or feeling nervous. Unfortunately, Latinos have a higher chance of being diagnosed with depression than any other ethnic group and yet, it is an extremely hard topic to talk about.

There are many factors that lead Latinos into feeling depressed like the language barrier, discrimination, parenting, work and the lack of support. Latinos may also struggle with not seeking the help that they may need and one of the biggest reasons can often be the fact that they may not have health insurance to even seek help. 

The Latino community grew up around having their own stories and problems stay within the four walls of their home. There is no reason why anyone else should know “our” business. Oftentimes, older adults will tell the younger generations “tienes que ser fuerte”, “you have to be strong” or “hay que seguir”, “you have to keep going” because that is how they were raised and there was no one really validating emotions.

There was no time to process emotions or look deep into thoughts. People had to work hard to put food on the table and to take care of their family. Today, for a lot of Latino families, going to therapy can mean that you are either crazy or you are letting someone tell you how to live your life. There is this sacredness of keeping things to yourself and moving on. Yet, therapy is so much different than what they see or think it is. 

Going to therapy during my college years allowed me to not only not feel like a burden to my parents with all the different things that they had going on, but it helped me process thoughts and emotions that I would have never thought were there. It allowed me to grow and to not only become a better daughter, sister and friend, but a better student and professional.

My parents were always very supportive and there for anything I needed, but there were times when certain things came up and I did not know how to begin to talk about them. It was difficult at first, but it became easier.

I was used to therapy, but I was not used to being open about it. How was I going to tell my parents that I was participating in talking about my issues with a total stranger? I did not want my parents to feel like I did not trust them because for my whole life, they had given me all I ever had.

Some of the sessions were mandatory for a class grade as a social work student, a lot of them were because I felt that I needed them. It was not until a year after graduating from undergrad that I decided to tell my parents that I was going to therapy and that I was processing different traumas that were really hard to talk about and overcome.

I wanted to be a stronger and a more professional social worker and therefore, I needed to work on myself in order to help others. My parents were a bit confused and unsure of what was going on with me, but they were supportive. It is still not a topic we openly discuss but I am sure that if I were to bring it up, they would be all ears.

Growing up, my parents went through traumatic situations that I would not wish upon anyone. They struggled as immigrants and overcame all obstacles to become amazing and strong parents. Unfortunately, there was no time for them to process their livelihood and the different traumas that had happened.

Today, discussing topics and bringing them up at the dinner table has helped my parents process some of the difficult times that they had growing up. Validating their emotions and feelings has been a difficult yet a wonderful experience. It has allowed me to not only get to know them better, but to see how things are evolving and how discussing feelings and emotions can become normal and not something that we need to hide.

It is important to understand and validate emotions and feelings towards any given situation. If it was not for therapy, my experience with my ectopic pregnancy would have probably been worse and detremental. Mental health is a stigma that we need to break and in order to do that, we need to try to be more vulnerable and open when we are not mentally well.

It is okay to feel depressed and anxious but when it gets in the way of our day to day lives, that’s when it becomes a problem. Just like we visit a doctor when we are not physically well. It is okay to visit a therapist when our minds are not well.

I hope that in the near future, discussing deep emotions with our loved ones within our Latino community can become normalized and acceptable. Life changes on a day to day basis and so do ways to overcome certain difficulties.

Esmeralda Mendez is Mexican-American. She is the proud daughter of immigrant parents and has Latinx roots. Esmeralda is a dancer, poet, and passionate young woman who will be graduating with her Masters in Social Work in May 2020.

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