Why it's so important to break the stigma around mental health within the Latinx community

The Latinx community is often discouraged from seeking mental health care due to cultural norms, social pressures and lack of access to bilingual resources and providers, but it is crucial to dismantle these barriers to heal.

Latinx members typically do not seek treatment for their mental health because they fear judgment, Monica Villalta, the director of inclusion and diversity officer at the National Alliance of Mental Illness, tells Yahoo Life. “A huge factor is the stigma – it is not only our own self-silencing, but it’s also that when we go to to the systems of care offering mental health services, we don’t feel welcome.”

Dior Vargas, a queer Latina mental health activist, agrees. “When I started being open about my mental health, my mom was concerned, she said, ‘Oh, people are going to think that I was a bad mom, that I didn’t do my job right.’ It’s something that’s very embarrassing to us.”

Villalta adds that three generations of her family were silent on important matters, adding that it took years of exposure to a new culture to “understand that I can speak about these things and share my story.”

Let's redefine what going to a therapist is and not shaming it Monica Villalta

Men, in particular, struggle with coming forward, says Jason Rosario, the founder and creative director of The Lives of Men, because sharing emotions is not a common practice in Latinx culture. Machismo, the idea that men must have strong, aggressive or dominating behavior (often expressed in terms like “los hombres no lloren” which in English means, “Boys don’t cry”) reinforces the idea that being emotional is weak.

“The very thing we’re told not to do, are the very things that contribute to us suffering from depression,” he tells Yahoo Life. “We’re not used to talking about our bodies in a very sacred way as men. Usually women are taught to be very in tune with themselves in that way...” He adds that signs of depression aren’t universal. “Sometimes you might have a headache, you might suffer from lower back pain” which is often misclassified as work-related stress. Therapy should be a preventative measure, he says, not only prescriptive.

For men to be able to articulate how they feel but also connecting that directly to how they might be feeling, and again, getting into their bodies. We are not used to talking about our bodies in a very sacred way as men, you know, that’s usually women who are taught to very in tune with themselves. Jason Rosario

Sharing one’s trauma is a vulnerable task for anyone, but even more so in a second language. However, communication between the patient and provider is essential for effective care.

If you are Latinx, or from another minority group, it can be difficult to find the right BIPOC practitioner. As Vargas shares, “I’ve had good times with therapy, and bad times, and it varies when it comes to finding a therapist...I currently am seeing a therapist [who is a woman of color] and it’s been wonderful…other times when I’ve had bad experiences with therapy, more often than not, it was with a white woman. When it comes to cultural sensitivity [and] cultural compassion, they weren’t understanding where I was coming from.”

In order for the Latinx community to flourish in a strong, supportive space, care for one another is essential. We cannot shy away from difficult and uncomfortable conversations with our neighbors, families and friends. What we can do, is support those who struggle and are unsure of how to move forward.

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