Mental wellness panel

On September 30, Latinas in Business hosted the 5th National Conversation with Latina Leaders to discuss the Mental and Sexual Wellness of Latinas and other minority women in a post-pandemic world.

The topic of this National Conversation was “Our Bodies, Our Health: State of Minority Women’s Mental and Sexual Wellness.” 

The first panel, State of Mental Wellness for Minority Women, focused on how the pandemic has left -and continues to cause- a significant burden of anxiety, uncertainty, loss, and stress, especially for minority women and their families. It posed the questions: how are Latinas and other minority women dealing with mental health wellness and recovery in the workplace or sustaining their businesses? 

Guest speakers and health experts, Dr. Anahi Ortiz, Rev. Ohilda Holguin, and Erica Sandoval gave insights on these topics. Here are some highlights from that conversation. 

Why women are leaving their jobs 

Latinas in Business President and CEO, Susana Bauman, asked: “Mental health issues like anxiety, stress, burnout, and depression have contributed to many minority women’s decisions to leave their jobs, if not the workforce entirely. What are you seeing in your practice related to their needs? And what are they expressing as main concerns when you see them?” 

Erica Sandoval, Clinical Social Worker and therapist. (Photo courtesy of Erica Sandoval)

Erica Sandoval, a Clinical Social Worker and therapist said,I see a lot of women that are feeling not valued, not valued in the workplace. And the top three reasons why are: the gender pay gap—they’re not getting paid equitably for the work that they’re doing; second, more is expected of them while getting less in return; and third, they have a lot of schedules that are conflicting, because they also have responsibilities at home.” 

Erica described how, after the pandemic where working from home became the new norm, many women created new systems for managing work and caregiving responsibilities that now no longer function when asked to return to in-person work. 

“Now you’re being asked to go back to work and that’s adding two hours extra into your day and additional money that you’re spending and then you’re not getting paid equitably. That’s frustrating and they’re feeling very unvalued, not seen, not heard,” Erica added. 

This shift, from remote which made life easier for many working moms, to in-person work again made many women realize their working conditions pre-pandemic were not great. Many women since have re-prioritized their health, especially their mental health, causing a rise in women leaving their jobs to pursue other career paths remotely or even start their own businesses. 

“So you think that remote work is here to stay?” asked Susana. 

“I definitely think that remote work is definitely an opportunity for companies to hold on to, to really valuable employees,” said Erica. “What I’m seeing is that companies are rushing their teams back, and women are deciding not to go back to a place where maybe they don’t feel valued or supported. And they’re looking for other opportunities.” 

While there are certainly benefits to remote work, many women have also reported negative side effects from working remotely, such as an increase in depression and other mental health issues. 

Speaking on this topic, Erica emphasized the importance of movement and daily activity for those working remotely. Exercise plays a huge role in our mental health. 

“If you’re sitting all day, and you’re just moving from your couch, to your desk, that’s going to play a toll on your body. And so sitting as a new smoking what we say. So you have to really establish a routine to have activity throughout the day,” said Erica. “Even if you have to wake up earlier to do a walk. So you have to move your body and also socialize because I think what happens is we become a little antisocial and a little bit more afraid because we have trauma [from COVID].”  

Increase in addiction and drug overdose in women 

Dr. Anahi Ortiz, Office of Franklin County Coroner. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Anahi Ortiz)

Dr. Anahi Ortiz has almost 30 years of experience in working with high-risk communities in the medical field and in 2015 she convened the Franklin County Drug Overdose Death Initiative, which means regularly to look at the rising rate of drug use and death. 

“What are the causes of such a crisis? And what has been the situation after or during the pandemic?” asked Susana. 

“There’s a very interesting article out there from a science journal that did a study and what they’re proposing, or their answer, as to why this is occurring, is they’re calling these deaths of despair. And so these are despair due to homelessness, due to the rising separation between classes. And that’s one source of the despair. A job loss is another,” said Dr. Anahi Ortiz. “And in terms of the pandemic, what the United States saw between ’20 and ’21 ws an increase of 30% of folks dying of drug overdoses. And by ’21 to ’22, we saw a 15% increase. These are huge numbers of folks in the United States dying of drug overdoses, women traditionally have been about 25% – 30% of those who die of overdoses. But what we’re seeing little by little, is that that is changing. The numbers of women are increasing in terms of drug overdoses.” 

Alternative approaches to navigating mental health in the workplace 

Finally, Susana spoke to Reverend Ohilda Holguin, a wellness practitioner with a holistic approach. 

“What do you see in your practice, as their main concerns for women of color? Are they looking for alternative solutions to traditional medicine? And if so, what are these practices that they’re looking for?” Susana asked.

Rev. Ohilda Holguin, Founder of “Latinas in Wellness”. (Photo courtesy of Ohilda Holguin)

“I have been in the alternative field for over 15 years, because I personally had polycystic ovarian syndrome. So I sought out that information. But during those years, it was very rare to see people of color seeking that, it was mostly Eastern, European, Caucasian, so I didn’t see as many Latinas in that space,” said Ohilda.

“What I found recently in the practice, and similar to what Erica and Dr. Ortiz was saying, is that we’ve had to change how we view or how we support ourselves. With the hybrid work, you find that a lot of women who had things in place that supported them no longer had them. For example, in the alternative wellness space, maybe you had some that did yoga, well, gyms were closed, yoga was closed, these opportunities that we had in place, were no longer there. Or maybe you had a great support system. And unfortunately, you know, due to COVID, people pass. You have all these opportunities that in the past, you kind of managed. But when we were forced to be indoors, all those support systems were gone. And many had to find alternative ways, including myself.” 

Many of those alternative ways of coping that women have turned to include mindful practices, such as mindful eating, exercising, and breathing techniques. Ohilda says it’s important for people to take the time to check in with oneself, figure out one’s needs, asking: What can I do for myself to be healthier? And what does that look like, in this space? And also check in with others. 

“Sometimes it’s just taking a moment when we start a meeting to say, ‘Do you need a minute? Do you need to go refresh your water, your coffee, or do you need to go to the restroom?’ Because, you know, I joke when I first started being indoors, a colleague said, ‘Oh, my wife bought me a refrigerator, I put it under my desk.’ And I thought, why would he need that? You know, and I realized, sometimes you don’t have a moment to go to the restroom, let alone your refrigerator. So you have to be intentional about your nutrition. And I think that more Latinas are doing that.” 

morning exercise
Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

What we’re reading: Healing Leadership: How to Lead, Love, and Thrive in Business and Life

Ohilda also adds that companies are becoming more aware of these changes and the needs of their remote / hybrid workers. “Not every field is going to have these opportunities. But most companies are aware that the support systems are gone, and that the mindset has changed. 

“And I can say that, we’re also looking at things like neurodiversity. Not everyone can learn or work in this environment. If you have ADHD, if you have sensory processing issues—these are things that are affecting Latinas, our children, they’re being behind the screen, eight to 10, 12,14 hours a day is not healthy.”

The key to navigating mental health issues seems to be balance. Establishing clear routines, checking in with oneself and others, and creating opportunities to support one another makes a difference. With serious issues like addiction, depression, anxiety, and more on the rise, it’s so important now more than ever that we all prioritize our mental health and support our fellow working women. 

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  • Victoria Arena

    Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. She holds an Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, and a Bachelor's in English Literature from Montclair State University.

By Victoria Arena

Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. She holds an Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing, and a Bachelor's in English Literature from Montclair State University.

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