Campus Life Editor
National Suicide Prevention Month takes place in September in the U.S., coinciding with Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, which takes place Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 34 percent of Latinx adults with mental illnesses receive treatment compared to the national average of 45 percent. From barriers to care to the stigma around mental illness, it is difficult for Latinx people to get treatment.
From my experience as a Chicanx person in the United States, there has been a push from young Latinx people to break the stigma. Mental health is not openly talked about and people in our community struggle to find proper resources. The fear around showing “weakness” is prevalent and leads people to suffer in silence.
Religion has long been a way to cope with any mental distress too. Many Latinx families have strong religious faith and the need to seek outside care is intimidating and too different to those who have grown up in a culture where the default is to turn to your faith. Latinx folks rely on churches as their social, educational, and spiritual resource. As someone who has distanced themselves from the church, I can see how Catholic guilt specifically makes people within the community feel ashamed for needing to reach out for help. It’s a negative coping mechanism that leads to more harm than good. People who grow up in households with strong religious faith feel it’s wrong to struggle with mental illness.
The stigma around mental illness in the community comes from the attitudes towards needing help and the self-stigma of being too embarrassed to speak up. For example, for a lot of Latinx people, their families had never gone through the experience of therapy. Before I attended therapy myself, I was culturally taught that it was the last resort for “crazy” people because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. There wasn’t as much access or information to those resources, and if they were presented it was taboo to talk about needing such help. Not only are Latinx people less likely to seek mental health treatment, but there are increased disparities to accessibility. Treatment for Latinx individuals is going to look different because of cultural upbringing and even language barriers. It’s important for Latinx people to receive treatment that takes their experiences into consideration. There are benefits to seeking culturally sensitive therapy, which emphasizes the therapist’s understanding of a client’s background, ethnicity, and belief system. According to Psychology Today, therapy with Latinx clients wasn’t as effective when therapists were perceived as distant. It is vital to the wellbeing of our community that when we seek help it comes from a place of understanding and acceptance.
There are various studies about the idea on how familismo and machismo affect the way mental health is perceived. Familismo is the dedication and loyalty to family and research shows that Latinx college students have a strong commitment to family. Stronger connections to family are linked to positive health outcomes including lower levels of substance and drug abuse while machismo correlates to mental distress. Although familismo creates a support system, it can also create a toxic environment in which you can’t make choices for yourself without discussing with your family and their opinions on subjects like mental health being a factor in how you perceive it. Latinx values of staying in a family unit and following ideals create another cultural pressure that is different from the experiences of others.
Generational trauma is a stressor that impacts the Latinx community in the United States, due to overcoming various challenges like immigration, socioeconomic status, and discrimination. We carry that trauma with us as it is passed down from our caregivers and has fallen onto the shoulders of those who wish to challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness. Immigrants and first generation folks are affected as a result of assimilating to a eurocentric society. By being born into a system that favors whiteness, BIPOC are bound to encounter obstacles that negatively impact their mental wellbeing.
As we take the time to celebrate our cultures during Latinx Heritage Month, I feel it is also important to educate ourselves and our community on how to break the stigma. Mental illness greatly impacts Latinx people and although we may carry the pain of those who came before us, we are able to change that way of thinking and seek help when needed.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus