Hispanics and Latinos are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S, as they make up 18.5% of the population, equal to roughly 60.5 million people. And because of the unique barriers that this community faces, the state of mental health is alarming. For one, over 10 million of the total population is reported to suffer from a mental illness in 2021. And among that number, only around 55% of them will seek mental health treatment.
It’s important to educate the Hispanic community on mental health and offer help to those that need it. However, it would first be worth understanding why a stigma on mental health exists among the population.
Latinas, Hispanic culture and mental health
Culture plays a huge part in the pressures to conceal mental health problems. The Hispanic community has its own belief system and culture-bound syndromes — which are behavioral, affective, and cognitive manifestations of deviance from the usual behavior of people in that culture. For instance, ataque de nervios, or attack of the nerves, is a culture-bound syndrome characterized by uncontrollable screaming, crying, and dissociative experiences. Doctors may attribute these to anxiety disorders, but in Latino culture more importance is given to religion and they can sometimes look at mental health conditions as a spiritual problem rather than a medical condition.
The culture also keeps parental authority in high regard for life. This doesn’t give Hispanic children space to talk about their mental health even within the family — especially if parents have decided treatments are something they don’t need. Concepts like machismo (an exaggerated sense of masculinity where men must provide and protect the family) and marianismo (toxic femininity where women should strive to be pure and moral like the Virgin Mary) also uphold the idea that mental health care is taboo since it puts yourself first before others.
Where do we go from here?
It seems difficult to penetrate a traditional and deeply rooted culture, but organizations have already been working to destigmatize mental health within the community. There are online health resources, such as the Compartiendo Esperanza, which is a video series that shows the journey of mental wellness in the Latino community. Meanwhile, Mental Health America has a list of screening tools and materials in Spanish to break the language barrier.
For those who are struggling financially, you can contact a local health clinic or your local government, or call the National Treatment Referral Helpline to see what services you qualify for. Meanwhile, for immigrants who don’t have legal documentation, there are clinics and resources that care for everyone regardless of legal status — especially Latino-based organizations. But if you prefer to keep any therapy sessions discreet and away from prying eyes, there are remote mental health providers here in New Jersey and across the country. They’re able to offer the same level of care that on-site providers give.
Outside of these resources and organizations, members of the Latino community can look up to fellow Hispanic and Latina celebrities who have spoken about mental health. In March 2020, Selena Gomez revealed she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder — and she’s been quite open about her struggles. She even shared her strategies for bad mental health days, which included exercising and calling a friend. And to reach out and provide support to people who need it, she co-launched Wondermind, a mental health platform, in February 2022.
Destigmatizing mental health is difficult, especially if you grew up in a culture that sees talking about and managing mental health as taboo. However, Latino individuals are now given more opportunities to speak about and to seek help for their mental health. With more figures from the community talking about it, organizations can make mental health services more accessible.
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