Growing up in a Mexican household, we all knew what our roles were. I was a first generation college student and had all of the opportunities in the world thanks to my parents. I was supposed to change the world because of this gift that was handed to me, but my depression did not let me. Since my depression’s role was conflicting with my intended role, I was ultimately looked down on.
Mental illness is hard to explain to a culture of people who are used to working through their pain. People who are so used to surviving that they forget to live, or in my case anyway. If I was diabetic or had high cholesterol, the immediate reaction would be to go to the doctor, take medication, and get on fixing my health. Why is mental health different? Is it because we can’t see it? Is it because it gets so easy to work through it?
Eventually, my anxiety found comfort in my depression and they became best friends. The words of my father ringing in my ear saying, “in this world we sink or swim.” It was not until my twenties that I realized we have lifeguards for a reason. We have life jackets and boats to help in moments when swimming gets too exhausting. And it does get exhausting. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, nor should we feel ashamed for needing help. In our culture, we get into a “sink or swim” mentality which causes us to feel like those are our only two options.
HOW TO BREAK THE STIGMA
It starts with us…
In order to know how to break the stigma, we need to know what it is doing. According to CAMH, stigma prevents 40% of people with anxiety and depression from seeking medical help.
Switch the language: We need to start normalizing that mental illness exists and that it is something people should not feel ashamed of.
Welcome compassion: We need to start showing compassion for those with mental illness(es). It is something easily forgotten, but it can go a long way.
Inform yourself: In the age of technology, we have the ability to educate ourselves on mental illness and people’s stories.
Motivate: People should feel encouraged to seek treatment and speak out about their own experiences.
In an ocean filled with swimming people, I find comfort in knowing I have a life jacket and it does not make me weak. Now, when I think of “sink or swim,” I think of the the possibilities ahead. I know my role again and I am here today helping others put their life jacket on.
Diana Franco-Galindo is a graduate student pursuing the Joint Masters of Social Work Program at UNCG and A&T and has an internship at Sunrise-Amanecer. She was born in a blended Mexican-Guatemalan household straddling three cultures. She is an aspiring mental health clinician focusing on de-stigmatizing mental health and wants to bring awareness to issues surrounding domestic violence.