Engaging in Conversations about Mental Health

Posted on 08/05/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: education, intern, health

By: Rebecca Toro Condori, Corporate Relations and Development Intern, LULAC National

Growing up in a Latino household, I noticed that various cultural and ethnic factors exist that influence the perceptions of mental health in our community. Coming from a family of Bolivian immigrants, I often noticed the stigma associated with mental health and the lack of knowledge among Latino families on how to adequately address these issues.

The National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health has found that Latinos are at a high risk for depression, substance abuse and anxiety and that 1 in 7 Hispanics have attempted suicide. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Latino males 18-34.

Within the Latino community, most symptoms of depression are overlooked as simply nervios (nerves), tiredness, physical weakness, or--when talking about youth-- it is simply a phase that they will grow out of. Many of my parents’ Latino friends would belittle psychologists and psychiatrists, saying that they weren’t real doctors or that they would not provide any "real" help.

Even though this problem may be dismissed as minor issues by Latinos, the facts say otherwise, and the stressors that could lead to depression and other mental health issues are numerous.

During the time of the recession, the service industry was hit hard, with thousands of people losing their jobs. With Latinos making up a sizeable portion of the service industry, this resulted in a hard, stressful time period for the Latino community. The 2008 Emotional Health Index (EHI), created by disease management companies Gallop and Healthways, showed that the Hispanic population had the worst emotional health compared to other races.

Latinos work hard to maintain good financial standing in order to take care of their families. When the recession hit, they felt shame and ultimately blamed themselves for their financial troubles. During this time period, my family foreclosed on our home because my father couldn’t keep up with the monthly payments since the construction industry was slow. I could feel the pressure he was experiencing, see his anxiety, and heard many arguments between my parents due to the financial stress.

Another prime stressor for Latino families can be the cultural adaptations that come through immigrating to a new country. When Hispanics learn to adapt to living in the U.S., their traditional values and beliefs often clash with a completely new culture. Others face language barriers and the emotional stress that comes with an insecure immigration status. Knowing that you are at risk of deportation and the sense of helplessness that accompanies it can quickly spiral into depression. Immigration raids can traumatize both parents and children, even if the children were born in the U.S. Many of my childhood friends lived each day in various states of fear and stress, fearing that they would be separated from their loved ones and placed in the foster care system because their parents and/or siblings were undocumented.

It is also difficult for Hispanic youth to cope with being caught in the middle of American culture and the values from home that their parents have taught them. These youth may also face discrimination and marginalization due to struggling to live within two distinct cultures. As a child, I was somewhat oblivious to the fact that I was Bolivian. Being born in the US and spending most of my time at school--my first language was English--I never embraced my heritage until I was much older. When I was in the 6th grade, one of my classmates blatantly told me I wasn’t American. I told him otherwise, but he continued degrading me as if I was less than he was. I simply ignored him, but others may not overcome this ridicule so easily.

Hispanic youth also face other stressful factors such as graduating and attending college. The difficulty of course work and maintaining decent grades alone can cause some to sink into depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s youth risk survey found that Latino youth were at a higher risk of “feeling sad or hopeless (36.3%), to seriously consider suicide (15.9%), and to attempt suicide (10.2%) than white (26.2%, 14.0%, and 5.6%, respectively) and African American (29.2%, 13.2%, and 7.7%) youth”.

During my four years of high school, six students committed suicide. Seeing the halls filled with students crying and having to close off the library to counseling was saddening. Knowing that one of your own classmates would not be sitting in their seat the next day was a strange feeling. The impact on the morale of our community was extensive.

In recognition of Minority Mental Health Month last month, it’s important that we encourage more constructive conversations about mental health in minority communities. With the suicide rate being the tenth leading cause of death and depression affecting 20%-25% of those above the age of 18, this is not an issue to take lightly. Although there are several stressors and situations that Latinos must deal with and overcome, asking for help or informing someone of your thoughts and feelings can be tremendously helpful. No one wants to lose a loved one due to suicide, especially with the variety of different treatment methods we have at our disposal.

Rebecca Toro Condori is currently a Corporate Relations and Development Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. Rebecca will enter her sophomore year this upcoming fall at Virginia Tech with majors in Marketing and Finance. After graduating, she hopes to go into a career that focuses on multicultural marketing or international economic development.


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