By Diane Cervantes
The topic of mental illness is taboo and very stigmatized in the Latino community. However, having this frame of mind can result in major repercussions to our overall well-being. There are many reasons why Latinos in particular do not seek help, even though they are just as likely as people from different cultures/ethnicities to experience mental illness such as depression and anxiety.
The Social Stigma
A big factor that contributes to the denial and repression of mental health and illness in the Latino community is largely due to the stigma that comes with speaking on the matter. We don’t want to be labeled as crazy, or unstable. The phrase “Que va a decir la sociedad?” (What will society say?) is a common one, because we fear how other will perceive us. The thought of being labeled loco/loca is deep rooted in fear of rejection, which is why many people are not well informed about the causes and treatments for mental illness.
As a culture that is very prideful, it is difficult to even realize and admit that we are distressed and in need of help. Not wanting to feel like a burden and having a sense of self-sufficiency keeps many from reaching out, thus the cycle continues. Despite not wanting to disclose personal matters to others, whether it be to friends or trained professionals, Latinos are more likely to use their religious faith as a way of coping. Having faith and practicing prayer is valuable and beneficial, but the comfort it brings is not the same as properly treating mental illness. “La ropa sucia no se lava en casa ajena” (You don’t air dirty laundry with strangers) is another saying that many stick by and an additional reason as why it difficult to have open conversation on the matter.
Language Barriers and Socio-Economic Status
Aside from cultural perceptions, there are other different issues that prohibit Latinos from seeking treatment. This includes language barriers, lack of information and misconceptions, lack of health insurance and legal status. In the United States there are only 29 Latino mental-health professionals for every 100,000 Latinos in the U.S., compared to 173 non-Hispanic white providers per 100,000 non-Hispanic whites. According to clinical psychologist, Ph.D, and president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, Jane Delgado, “Recent studies have suggested that specialists need to comprehend different cultural views on mental illness in order to give their patients the best possible care. Many physicians, psychiatrists, [and] therapists are well-trained, but they aren’t trained in understanding culture and how they’re impacting someone’s world.”
People that are undocumented are more likely to have anxiety of being deported, thus preventing them from seeking help or finding proper resources. This socio-economic phenomenon is very complex; factors such as poverty and long work hours also contribute to what is prioritized in everyday life. The stress of the lifestyle many Latinos in the U.S experience is heightened by the distress of possible repercussions for those who are undocumented.
In addition to their schedules and responsibilities, many do not find treatment accessible because of the shortage of Latino therapists and proper understanding of the expressions used in the language. For example, when feeling depressed, a Spanish-speaking person could proclaim that “me duele el corazon” literally translating into “my heart hurts” which could be misinterpreted as a heart condition rather than a mental one. This puts many at a disadvantage of not being able to be understood in their native tongue, which can lead to discouragement from continuing treatment.
Latino Millennials are Going Through It
According to a study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, millennials are at higher risk to be faced with mental health issues. In comparison to previous generations, millennials are experiencing “multidimensional perfectionism” – meaning they are driven by unrealistically high expectations. Consequently, this generational pressure accompanied with the cultural stigma in the Latino community is an additional stress to consider.
With the rise of social media, this generation that grew up in a transitioning analog to digital world has more access and awareness of other people’s lives. Because of this, we compare ourselves more often, which can become another source of distress, anxiety, and depression. It’s relevant to note and to remember that the posts we see are more often than not highlights from a moment, and can be manipulated to present the desired image. The irony behind this thought process that many of us possess is that the majority are on the same boat going through our own trials and tribulations.
It is important to open the conversation and come to the conclusion that taking care of mental health is not shameful, and more common than “abnormal,” in order to shift our preconceived notions and accept each other through our struggles.
Natural Treatments and Resources
Despite the stigma and access to therapy, many Latinos do trust natural remedies to help and improve mental illness symptoms. This is not to discredit medicine prescribed by doctors and physicians, but these natural treatments have less, if any, side effects as opposed to prescriptions such as antidepressants.
Exercise- The thought of even stepping out, exercising can feel like such a drag at first, especially when anxious or depressed, but the endorphins our bodies create after a sweaty sesh does improve our mood.
Avoid Caffeine- Although caffeine can be an energy booster, it also reduces serotonin levels. Low serotonin is linked to depression, while balanced levels aide in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and libido. Eating a serotonin-enhancing diet can improve your levels as well. This includes high protein foods, healthy fats like coconut oil, and omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, anchovies.
B-complex- Vitamin B12 supports the neurological system and boosts energy levels, and folate supports nutrient absorption, helps to reduce irritability and fights fatigue. Beyodecta is a known B12 supplement that can be found in local pharmacies, and there are also B-complex injections available. (Certain clinics offer these injections)
Vitamin D/Light Therapy- Being outdoors and soaking up the sun is also a great way to get your vitamin D dose, which is also a mood booster. Light therapy is also an alternative to ease symptoms that can help when the seasons change and the days are shorter.
Yoga & Meditation- Clearing the mind from the overstimulation and worries can be tamed with meditation and yoga. Take it step by step and start by meditating for a few minutes and notice how this simple act can ease restlessness and anxiety. Although yoga may not be as strenuous as other forms of exercise, Studies have shown that in both people with emotional distress and major depression, practicing yoga reduces stress, hostility, anxiety, and depression, and improves energy, sleep quality, and well-being.
Essential Oils – Certain oils have calming properties such as lavender oil. Lavender oil helps to relieve stress, promote a feeling of peace and improve sleep. It actually has a long history of medicinal use for mood disorders because it has sedative. To use lavender oil as a natural remedy for depression, add 5–10 drops to warm bath water, diffuse 5–10 drops in your bedroom at night to promote sleep, and apply 2–3 drops topically to the temples, chest and wrists in the morning.
Cognitive behavioral therapy – Being aware of your thoughts and learning to change destructive patterns could alter the way your brain works and your reaction to situations.CBT is considered short-term therapy, often lasting for 10 to 20 sessions that focuses on being aware of thoughts and feelings and learning to change these patterns that could alter the way the brain works.
As Latinos, our culture embraces togetherness and family, and as such we should be aware that seeking help and talking about mental illness openly is not dishonorable or uncommon. We are not alone in this world, and we are stronger together.
Mental Health America includes educational materials in Spanish to better understand mental illness such as:
- Changing how we think about mental health. Cambiando la manera en que pensamos acerca de la salud mental.
The following links include resources to manage and distinguish mental illness:
- American Society of Hispanic Psychiatry: http://americansocietyhispanicpsychiatry.com/
- MANA – A National Latina Organization: http://www.hermana.org/
- National Association of Hispanic Nurses: http://www.thehispanicnurses.org/
- National Council of La Raza: http://www.nclr.org/
- National Hispanic Medical Association: http://www.nhmamd.org/