Destigmatizing Latinx Mental Health

A first-generation immigrant challenges Latinx to talk about mental health and shares her own story.

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Read Time: 4 minutes


I recently took a road trip with my mother and on the way, I played the podcast “Latinx Therapy.” At first, she pushed back and asked why I listen to this. I simply answered, “to educate myself.” After that response, and once we had listened to a few episodes, we started to talk about mental health. I was about a year into a diagnosis of anxiety and depression following an episode of four consecutive nights of insomnia. The road trip is when I was first learned that not only did my mother suffer from insomnia, but also my grandmother. It boggled my mind that we had never talked about it. But my experience is not unique, other Latinx also suffer from mental health problems and the associated stigma.

When I sought help, I could not believe that I was suffering from mental health problems. I was a strong, intelligent, first-generation immigrant who surmounted so many of life’s obstacles. But a harder challenge would be added — not having  support from some of my friends and family. They said that I just needed to relax or that I was overthinking things. Although their comments were not meant to hurt, they made me feel like it was my fault. I wish they would have told me that everything was going to be okay and that if there is anyone who could get through this,  it would be me. After treatment and learning to have a better relationship with my mental health, I had to reconcile with the pain from the lack of support from community. A year and a half later, still coping, I have started to learn and understand the larger context.

A wise woman once told me that we need to be uncomfortable in order to grow. So here I am, challenging each and every one of you (Latinx) to be uncomfortable.

I have the privilege of working on my mental health and generational trauma. I have access to education, affordable health care providers, and amazing academic mentors who have given me the tools and space to ask for and receive help. I can’t blame my family and friends who did not have the same resources or the privilege of education. I also can’t blame them considering the stigmatization and shaming of mental health within our Latinx community. It is for this reason, I write this piece.

In the Latinx community, there are many variables that prevent us from seeking help. Factors like lack of information and misunderstanding are a part of it. Another is the prejudice against medication. Many believe that you are “crazy, weak, or useless” if you use medication. I can’t count the times that I’ve had to gently remind my family that taking medication does not make me weak. In addition, many Latinx prefer to put “reliance on faith” and not therapy, which I find unsettling. Machismo and marianismo are part of our culture and keep many, particularly men, from seeking help. Lastly, our Latinx culture is private about personal and family issues.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration in 2019 reported that one in four Latinx adults is diagnosed with a mental illness. Of these, about the quarter of young Latinx adults have had a serious mental illness and less than half  (48.8%) received treatment. Covid-19 has highly affected the Latinx community by increasing the prevalence of psychosocial stress due to food insecurity and unstable housing, and higher risks of hospitalization or death due to Covid. This is alarming, especially since studies report that Latinx experience higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation and substance use in comparison to whites and other people of color. We need to start intervening at all levels.

We need to expand culturally competent and low-cost mental health services. But, first and foremost, as individuals we need to be willing to initiate uncomfortable and difficult discussions within our own family and friends. If I had not played the podcast on that trip with my mother, I would have never known that my anxiety is multi-generational. Left alone, I would not have been writing this piece. A wise woman once told me that we need to be uncomfortable in order to grow. So here I am, challenging each and every one of you (Latinx) to be uncomfortable. Talk to your families and friends about your mental health. Only then can we break down the stigma.

The author wishes to acknowledge Andrew S. Rowland, Ph.D., of the University of New Mexico for his assistance in editing this viewpoint.

Photo via Getty Images