There is a major stigma around mental health issues in the Latinx community.
If you’ve ever tried to talk to a Latinx parent about your mental health, you’ve probably heard things like:
"La ropa sucia se lava en casa."
"iHabla con Jesus!"
"No mas son nervios. iComete mas pozole!"
This probably explains why I only just received an diagnosis of ADHD by a clinical psychiatrist at 32 years old. Or why I’ve never really shared with anyone that I’ve struggled with anxiety, self-harm and depression. Until now.
And, to be clear, this isn’t about blaming our parents or even our parents’ parents. The constant cultural downplaying of the topic speaks to something that’s existed long before your abuelita told you to quit crying and eat your frijoles.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 20% of Latinxs who exhibit symptoms of psychological disorders actually talk to their doctor about it and only 10% seek psychiatric help.
That’s a scary thought when you consider that Latina teens currently have the highest rate of suicide attempts of all adolescent groups in the U.S.
The American Psychiatric Association found in studies in 2014 that 36% of Latinos with depression received care, versus 60% of whites.
Latina teenagers have a rate of suicide attempts of 13.5% compared with 9.8% for white female teens and 10.2% for black female teens according to a 2015 survey by the CDC.
And while acknowledging the benefits of holisitic approaches to improving mental health is important, addressing more serious problems may be more complex than even homemade empanadas con jamon y queso are capable of resolving. They still help though. Studies show.
Holistic Ways to Improve Mental Health:
Diet (eating serotonin-enhancing foods)
Exercise (releasing endorphins)
Meditation (relieving stress)
Employing a life coach or therapist
Exposure to sunlight to boost your mood with Vitamin D.
Mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, bio-polar disorder, or addiction can require long-term treatment or medication. And when we’re so quick to downplay symptoms, we’re more likely to miss the signs of something potentially more serious.
So, why aren’t Latinx people opening up? Why does it take some of us 32 years to stop sweeping our mental health issues under the proverbial tapete?
One explanation, according to Dr. Jane Delgado, president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, is that Latinx people value self-reliance even more so than American culture as a whole.
And sure, self-reliance can be a very good thing. It speaks to the strength and resilience of our community. But it can also discourage people from talking about their symptoms for fear of being a burden to others.
Remember, when someone says “I’m fine.” It probably means they’re Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional. At least that’s what my high school guidance counselors taught me. I’ve done a lot of self-help work. Don’t judge.
Others attribute this stigma to the fear of being thought of as crazy. When some Latinos think of mental illness, they think one thing: iLoca! People don't want to feel shame or be labeled as the family with a relative who’s—cray-cray. That’s not a psychiatric term. The problem with this belief system is that it could become a serious public-health concern. And if that sounds dramatic, consider that there are 49 million Latinos in the U.S.— constituting the country's largest and fastest-growing minority group.
By 2050, it is estimated that Latinos will constitute nearly 30% of the U.S. population according to census.gov
And within those 49 million are many Latinos who speak little English or none
at all resulting in a language barrier that can present a whole other challenge to seeking treatment.
There are only 29 Latinx mental-health professionals for every 100,000 Latinxs in the U.S., compared to 173 non-Latinx, white providers per 100,000 non-Latinx whites.
Opening up to a friend about your personal struggle with depression is difficult. Opening up to a a complete stranger…who doesn’t speak your language can, well, suck.
And then there’s the cost factor. The CDC found that in 2016, 19.6% of Latinos under the age of 65 were uninsured. The high cost of healthcare and prescription medication in this country alone is enough to deter anyone from seeking the help they need.
More than 2 in 3 bankruptcies are caused by medical problems, either from bills, income loss due to illness, or both, according to new data in the American Journal of Public Health.
And the number of uninsured Latinxs only climbs further when you include the millions of undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for insurance under the ACA and may only seek professional care in an emergency.
The continuation of these disparities over time mean that the Latinx community is at a greater risk of severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions. Despite of all these challenges, at some point, we might ourselves, what do we have to gain from staying silent?
If you ask this group of Latinx mental health activists, bloggers, licensed therapists, podcasters and organizations, absolutamente nada.
According to these badass advocates—badvocates?—if mental health is not a conversation within your community, you start one. And that’s exactly what they’re doing. There are entire online communities offering credible resources and advice on how to manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and even adult ADHD without medication. (Jessica McCabe's TED Talk on the latter brought me to tears.)
I’ve personally benefited from several of these online resources and it’s been an amazing way to connect with people who understand what I’ve been struggling with my whole life—judgment free. They get me, yo.
And that’s not to say that Latinx families and communities aren’t supportive of each other—we are—we just aren’t all equipped to handle some of the emotional complexities of mental health.
And that’s, well, ok. Because the best thing we can do for someone is who is struggling with mental health issues is to listen and reserve judgement.
It’s also the best thing we can do for ourselves.