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Breaking Through The Latinx Mental Health Stigma

“Y porque necesitas eso?” “What are you, weak?” “No vale la pena.” “Sack up!” “Y que? Eres loco guey!?”

Any of these sound familiar? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Mental health is now more important than ever, as we are all in quarantine for the foreseeable future. And just like the coronavirus, mental health does not discriminate. The Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey recently reported that 28% of Puerto Ricans, 13% of Mexican Americans and 10% of Cuban Americans had symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Yes, this is alarming – but what’s even more alarming is that only 20% of Latinos with a mental disorder talk about it with a primary care physician, and only 10% actually pursue treatment from an authorized mental health provider. Of this 10%, only a fraction actually receive long term care.

Whether or not we are willing to admit it, there is absolutely a stigma regarding mental health in the Latinx community, and it is more important than ever to make sure this stigma goes away.

As such, here are 5 ways we can make mental health more accessible and understandable to our Latinx parents and surrounding community.

1) Communication – Positive and effective communication is essential in the diagnosis of mental disorders, so actually understanding what feelings or symptoms a patient is experiencing is of utmost importance. The key here is to make sure you’re seeing someone who speaks Spanish, so that they can explain the importance of mental health treatment to your parents, or anyone in your family who may doubt its efficacy. There are certain cultural nuances that even a translator won’t be able to convey appropriately. So, first things first – break down that language barrier.

2) Talk to your doctor – Numbers show that people in the Latinx community are twice as likely to discuss mental health issues with their primary care physician instead of a therapist due to the stigma – so take advantage of that! A lot of times, Latinos will only understand the physical symptoms of something like a panic attack, and their physicians will then be able to connect their symptoms to psychology. The physician will also be able to refer that patient to an appropriate mental health professional, and act as a reputable conduit in an often tedious process.

3) Get the whole family involved – As we know, family is everything in a Latinx household – so it’s important that you do your best to get your family on board and supportive. That support can be super effective in alleviating the stigma and encourage people who are suffering to address their hardship head-on.

4) Educate – Lack of knowledge regarding mental health and simple misunderstandings can definitely add fuel to the stigma fire. Having your physician or therapist explain treatment options and clearing up any confusing questions can help move the process along in a positive and progressive way. Often, when Latinx parents or caretakers understand that chemicals in the brain have an active role in mental health, they view this issue as scientific instead of fictitious or imaginary.

5) Seek help from organizations – Still don’t know where to start or how to get help? It can be extremely beneficial to seek out the assistance of organizations on the front lines of mental health like YourMomCares. This incredible organization has been funding healthcare services, testing and support for families in the most vulnerable communities across the US through their Mobile Moms Emergency Fund during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as providing tele-mental health services for adolescents. They are also sharing information from experts for kids and families regarding content to keep you and your loved ones healthy, informed and entertained. You can donate to this amazing organization here, and for those COVID-19 resources click here.

How have you dealt with mental health stigma in your Latinx family? Let us know in the comments below.

References:

Guarnaccia PJ, Martinez I, Acosta H. Mental health in the Hispanic immigrant community: An overview. In: Gonzalez MJ, Gonzalez-Ramos G, eds. Mental Health Care for New Hispanic Immigrants. Philadelphia: Haworth Press; 2005:21-46.

Mental health care for Hispanic Americans. In: Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity — A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; 2001.

Interian A, Ang A, Gara MA, et al. Stigma and depression treatment utilization among Latinos: utility of four stigma measures. Psychiatr Serv. 2010;61:373-379.

Lewis-Fernandez R, Das AK, Alfonso C, et al. Depression in US Hispanics: diagnostic and management considerations in family practice. J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005;18:282-296.

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