The Latinx Community Has a History of Downplaying Mental Illness
Advocacy Speaking about mental illnesses is the first step in a national movement to prioritize mental health for Latinx individuals.
Although I’ve been speaking Spanish at home since I was in preschool, only recently did I learn how to say the words “mental health” in Spanish: “salud mental.”
I am a first generation Mexican-American, and there is a thick layer of cultural stigma surrounding mental illness. The Latinx population refers to it as “nervios” (nerves), with symptoms such as headaches, sleep problems, nervousness and easy tearfulness. These symptoms, though, can also be signs for depression.
At college, unlike at home, I found people who speak openly about mental health. I’m the president of a student chapter of Active Minds (activeminds.org), a national movement that draws more than 15,000 students each year who are determined mental health advocates. We want to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness so seeking help for a mental health issue is just as natural as seeing a doctor for a physical health issue.
Mental illness does not discriminate, and as a Latina, I want to create awareness around the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face. Latinxs are the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, yet only 1 in 10 Latinx individuals who have a mental illness use mental health services from a general health care provider, and only 1 in 20 receive services from a psychologist.
Many go without treatment
Latinx families usually do not talk about mental health challenges and often do not know where to get help. This lack of knowledge increases stigma, resulting in Latinx individuals who may not seek treatment for fear of being labeled as “locos” (crazy). Other barriers include the lack of insurance, lack of mental health professionals from the Latinx community, poverty and anxiety stemming from the contentious political climate.
The words “salud mental” opened up my eyes to a conversation I can have with my family. Having the words is a start, and so much better than silence. No one should let fear of what others may think prevent us, or a loved one, from getting better.