If you were to ask anyone I knew growing up, they’d tell you I was not one for sharing feelings.
I’m proudly a mixed woman of color, but at first glance, I look 100% Hispanic. In the Hispanic/Latinx community, there’s a stigma that we don’t like to ask for help, especially when it comes to mental health. Yet, a large majority of us deal with mental conditions and suffer in silence. I should know, I did.
To quote Frozen, “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.”
This community doesn’t normally talk about mental illnesses, because for most, they weren’t ever given information on it. Due to this, many don’t notice the signs associated with conditions. Therefore, they don’t get help or even know where to get help.
If we don’t give information to everyone, we’re increasing that stigma against mental illnesses when we should be decreasing it.
Hispanics/Latinxs are just as likely to have mental illnesses as anyone else in the general population. The difference is we struggle to gain the treatment we need to get better, which puts us at a higher risk for long term mental health conditions.
The most common mental health conditions among the Hispanic/Latinx community are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and excessive use of alcohol and drugs.
There’s a variety of other reasons other than a lack of information that our community has a stigma against mental illnesses. Reasons include privacy concerns, language barriers, lack of health insurance, misdiagnosis, legal status, natural medicine, and faith/spirituality.
There’s a saying in Spanish, “la ropa sucia se lava en casa.” It translates roughly to “leave your dirty laundry at home.” Our community tends to be very private and don’t like to talk about difficulties at home, in public. However, if this is your concern, your mental health providers must keep all information you share with them confidential unless you give them permission. They are there to listen without making you feel judged.
Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is prevalent in the community. Culture affects mental health. Doctors don’t always realize that. Therefore, they may not recognize the symptoms that could be signs of mental illness rather than physical ones.
In my case, I explained to the doctor that I wasn’t hungry, had little motivation, and was quickly losing weight. Although I gave symptoms describing an eating disorder, they took it as me having food intolerances. That doctor wasn’t right for me, and yours may not be right for you either. It’s important to get second opinions, so you are diagnosed and given the treatment that is best for you.
A massive hurdle the Hispanic/Latinx community faces is language barriers. Some of us don’t speak Spanish, but others do. There weren’t always medical professionals that spoke Spanish or even had the patience to find someone who did so they could help. The medical industry is changing, though, and more and more medical facilities offer you to request a trained interpreter to receive information in Spanish.
Legal status and lack of health insurance are also reasons people don’t ask for help when they need it most. There’s a concern for immigrants arriving without documentation that if they seek help, they will be deported. The Affordable Care Act offers an easier and more affordable way to get insured. If you have a concern about being deported while registering for the Affordable Care Act, seek out clinics that care for all members of the community. There are many Latino-based organizations that provide services regardless of legal status.
Some Hispanics/Latinx members prefer traditional healers or home treatments. As a member of the community who has a strong connection to my faith, I understand how much spiritual practices can impact your health for the better. I do urge those who have strong faiths to reach out to the leaders in their faith community and ask for support, but also to consult mental health professionals who may be able to offer insight into additional treatments that could work for you.
Resources for your health
For those of you who were looking for help, I have done a lot of research for you. Below is a list of websites and Instagram pages that support the Hispanic/Latinx community regarding their mental health.
While these resources are fantastic, we have a lot of work to do to end the stigma against mental illness in the Hispanic/Latinx community.
We need translated and adaptive materials to be reflective of the various subgroups that make up our community. We need to educate insurance providers, general health care workers, and mental health specialists on how to work with and not against those trying to receive help.
Let’s work together to educate each other and end the stigma.