Mental Illness is something that has existed for hundreds of years. Amazing and talented people like Frida Kahlo suffered from depression. Her life was full of difficult moments and you can see how she used her art as an outlet for her deep sorrow and mental battles.
This makes one thing clear, mental illness is something that can happen to anyone. Your talent or dreams can’t exclude you from this. The positive thing is that now we are beginning to acknowledge it. We are beginning to assess it as a health issue and not a ” crazy people” issue. We are now beginning to understand how and why certain groups experience these mental health problems. How and if they seek help. So we can then asses where we as a society can help and understand where someone is coming from.
The Latino community is the largest minority group today in the U.S. with 18% of the population. Which means we really need to understand the following..
- Why Latinos tend to suffer from mental illness
- How we are dealing with it as a Latino community
- How we can help our loved ones
Why Latinos tend to suffer from mental illness
The first thing we must understand is this. The Latino community is very vast. We have many countries and therefor many cultural backgrounds that fall into this category. Not to mention we then have the immigrant community and U.S born.
For immigrants the issue can arise for three different reasons.
- Cultural shock
- separation from family stress
- social marginalization.
Imagine that! To be in a completely different place, different type of surroundings, different language. Not understanding how to move around or how to communicate. Where do you fit in all of this?! Remember, we as humans have a need to connect and be accepted. It is what makes us different from any other animal.
When men and women migrate to the U.S many times they leave children behind. They leave mothers, brothers, friends. The problem may not be the initial good bye but the fact they will not be able to see them for years, even decades. With no legal status you can’t take the liberty to go home to see them.
To be in a country that over time you begin to love. You overcome the separation stress. You begin to form your family here. You begin to enjoy your new culture but there is still one big problem. You live in the shadows. You have no voice. You can’t vote, many times you can’t say you are an immigrant. You hear the word wetback, illegals, criminals. You are constantly reminded you are not 100% accepted.
Now for all Latinos I believe the problem tends to come from cultural and peer stress. We try to live a life of adapting to two cultures that at times tend to contradict with one another.
How are we dealing with it?
- We don’t speak about it outside the family
- Legal status
- We seek alternative medicine
- We don’t understand the signs
- Cultural differences when it comes to diagnosis
We don’t speak about it outside our family
We as Latinos have a strong bond with our families. We share everything. We are very generous with what we have to the outside world except for our problems. Keeping our family problems quiet is something we prioritize. We keep quiet for fear of judgement.
Our religion tells us that if we have troubles to seek god. Even though spirituality is important we need to understand when it is time to seek professional help.
This is a big one in the Latino community. When you have no legal status in this country it is as if you don’t exist. The fear that if you speak up and seek help it will lead to deportation is what keeps some in silence
We seek alternative medicine
Like I mentioned before with the word Latino comes many cultural backgrounds, many beliefs. Some cultures believe in alternative medicine. Herbs, cleanings, witchcraft. Many Latinos seek help in this arena instead of with a professional doctor. The problem is that the longer you stay without proper care, the more likely it is for the condition to worsen.
We don’t understand the signs
Mental health awareness is a concept that we are fairly new to as a country. Even more so for the Latino community. So there is so much unknown. We don’t quiet understand how mental struggles look like. We mistake them for other things. ( I will add signs to look for at the end of the blog)
The resources for Spanish speaking people are very limited. 1 in 5 Americans are Hispanic/Latino or have a Latino background. However, only 1% of psychologists identify as Hispanic/Latino. Which brings me to the next point.
Cultural differences when it comes to diagnosis
With such a low percentage of Psychologist that are Latino there are such big gaps when understanding patients. On average 70% of non Latino-whites will attend a second appointment with a therapist. Only 50% of Latinos will attend a second appointment.
I have witnessed how bad that gap can really effect treatment. As I sat there explaining my life to someone that had no understanding of my culture it was a disaster. Situations that were common were received with gasps of awe by my therapist and extraordinary situations were not understood. I walked away after three sessions. My last time I walked away more depressed, less understood than ever.
Many Latinos live below the poverty line. On average 20% of Latinos live in poverty. Even though Latinos are beginning to move up the poverty line insurance and affordable care is a big factor into seeking help.
How can we help our loved ones?
I think the most important thing we can do is understand that mental illness looks different for everyone.
Even though depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses are so different from one another. Some signs include
- Change in appetite
- Trouble concentrating
- Change in mood
- Loss of interest in activities
- Taking care of hygiene less
- Tiered more often
- Irritated easily
- Trouble with memory
Be quiet and listen
When a loved one approaches you to talk you need to just listen. You have to understand their mind is running at a 1,000mph or they can’t even get their first thought to take shape. Hold their hand, look at them in the eye, and listen!
Show love and encouragement
Remind those that you know are struggling that you care. Stop by, give them a call, send them a txt. Hugging them often can help improve their mood. It allows their body to release oxytocin which helps mood improvement.
*to any of you going through a mental struggle. You are not alone, and you are loved. Never forget that! You can do this!
Written by: Lupita G.