By: Cruz Medina; Home Based Therapist, LSW
In the Hispanic Community mental health is a topic that is often shoved under a rug, and when I say “shoved” I mean it very intentionally. I will never forget the day that I found out my teenage cousin had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Almost a week had passed since she had been hospitalized before I found out about the incident. The night before the suicide attempt we had planned on going for a walk, but I never heard from her. I also didn't hear from her the next morning and the days that followed. My aunt had been telling family members that my cousin had “cholesterol” problems and for that reason was unavailable.
These responses and actions are not uncommon among the Hispanic Community. A 2001 Surgeon General’s report found that only 20% of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder talk to a doctor about their symptoms and concerns and only 10% contact a mental health specialist (NAMI). Let’s explore why mental health can be so taboo in the Hispanic culture.
In many Hispanic families, speaking of mental health is equated with “locura” (Spanish word for craziness). It has been my experience when friends and family members find out a relative is seeing a therapist that they react with astonishment. They will immediately want to find out what could be so “wrong” with their loved one.
Due to the stigma associated with mental illness, I have seen individuals hide mental health issues from their own families. This is unfortunate because this not only discourages individuals from seeking help, but it also hinders individuals from seeking social support, an essential factor for recovery.
Strong vs. Weak
Another reason mental health carries its stigma is that "complaining" is perceived as a sign of weakness within the Hispanic culture. Individuals are expected and often times asked to "get over" their mental health issues. This often is an effect that comes from the economic conditions of countries where many Hispanics live, where poverty can be extreme and resources limited. People have no option but to keep surviving.
And if you are a man, the situation only gets worse. Hispanic men are expected to be tough and expressions of emotions or sharing feelings are extremely discouraged.
It’s a Wrath
Families of those with mental illness will often times question what they did wrong for their loved one to be experiencing mental illness. Historically, in many Hispanic cultures, mental illness was attributed to witchcraft or a punishment from God. It is important to understand that these beliefs have only kept individuals within the Hispanic community in silence, at the expense of seeking help.
Seeking help from professionals opens the door to the possibility of living a life where you can thrive. Learn more about Mental Health and the services available at Families First.