It was after three years of struggling with my mental health when I came to terms with needing to see a therapist. I was coping with regular anxiety attacks, situational depression, and untreated trauma. My reluctance to seek out professional help was due to a number of reasons that could be narrowed down to one thing: the stigma that comes with admitting to mental health-related issues.
For a long time, I was under the impression that I had everything under control. I believed that the negative emotions would eventually subside and become easier to handle if I just gave them some time. I thought I would once again be what I believed to be a better version of myself. Yet, the opposite happened and I steadily got worse, experiencing anxiety attacks so regularly that they disrupted my day-to-day life and took a toll on my studies, work, and close relationships.
I finally had to admit to myself that my mental health should be prioritized over the fear that came attached to the stigma that I had been conditioned to feel. This conditioning that I, like many other people also experience, was largely due to my upbringing. I had to realize that although stigma against mental health is common across many cultures, my own experience has been specifically shaped by the experience of existing inside a Latinx body and that several myths about mental health issues in Latinx cultures play a big role in peoples decisions to not seek out professional help for the mental health problems they experience. Listed below are several of these myths:
“These things don’t happen to people like us.”
Growing up in Latinx households, we often hear the gossip about things that happen to other people’s families and the implied gratefulness that comes with not being part of that family. Negative things always have to happen to other people: far away enough so that it doesn’t taint our own family but close enough to gawk at it like it’s our business.
This is the expectation of issues surrounding mental health; they are not supposed to happen to us. In my own family, mental health was only talked about in passing: brief comments about someone else needing therapy, gossip about someone else’s mental breakdown and the “scene” that they caused, etc. There was an unspoken rule that mental health could only be talked about when it was brief and was about people who were at a safe distance from our family.
Since I didn’t have a space within my own family to talk about mental health without fear of being judged, I simply didn’t. These types of things were not supposed to be happening to me. I wasn’t supposed to be having anxiety attacks or bouts of depression. I kept quiet about it as much as possible for as long as I could, hoping that it would all eventually resolve itself and I wouldn’t have to bother anyone else with problems that felt taboo. It wasn’t that anyone in my family had expressed negativity about mental health prior to this. However, I was still aware of the culture surrounding mental health and how it was believed to be something that didn’t happen within the walls of our household; despite all of us having experienced trauma at some point in our lives.
Mental health issues are created/exaggerated for attention.
Because we are often under the impression that mental health issues only happen to other people, as Latinxs, we sometimes extend this even further to the point where anything related to mental health seems fake and considered to be “white people problems.” Because mental health issues are believed to be a myth, it is often considered a luxury only attributed to well-off white people who are thought to have the “privilege” to exaggerate about their problems to the point where they genuinely think there is something wrong with them.
This disconnection created from assuming that mental health-related issues are exaggerated creates a culture where Latinxs do not know how to pinpoint our own mental health problems. The taboo nature of mental health within Latinx communities creates a lack of knowledge about mental health overall and perpetuates a cycle where we are not emotionally prepared to talk about mental health within our own families, thus further deepening whatever mental health issues that are already present.
For myself, this was a problem because I didn’t feel like I could safely talk about mental health and spent my time trying to keep it a secret by having anxiety attacks behind closed doors and having unrealistic expectations of myself that I could not keep up with because I was not in the head space to do so.
By assuming that mental health issues are exaggerated for attention, we unintentionally create an unsafe environment and close the door on loved ones who may need to seek professional help for whatever they are dealing with.
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“What happens at home stays at home.”
Even when mental health issues are recognized within Latinx families, there is sometimes an issue of privacy. This can prevent people from seeking professional help because they either don’t want family members to find out that a stranger is being told private family information or that the individual is going around claiming to suffer from a mental illness.
When privacy is the top concern of a family, it is damaging to the person who is dealing with mental health problems. Though therapy is confidential and doesn’t extend outside of the realm of the patient and therapist, the anxiety that family members may exhibit in anger or aggression when they find out may prevent someone from seeking professional help. This furthers the stigma of mental health because it centers on the taboo nature of allowing professionals into a person’s private life in order to aid in healing.
Going to therapy is a sign of weakness.
As Latinxs, we are often recognized for our self-resilience and pride. This can create stubbornness that can lead to refusing to seek help when dealing with mental health-related problems. This creates a culture that sees therapy as a weakness. Seeing therapy as a weakness creates unresolved mental health issues which can get worse as they continue to be ignored.
This stigma against seeking professional help led to my mental health worsening with time. Instead of getting better, as I assumed it would, I ended up getting to a point where I couldn’t function on a daily basis because I had too much unresolved trauma. If I hadn’t been taught to believe that therapy was a sign of weakness and had, instead, sought out help from the beginning, I could have avoided years of unrest, anxiety, and breakdowns. Creating a culture against seeking help for mental health is so deeply rooted into our Latinidad that it often isn’t even considered an option for many people. This stigma against therapy also usually goes unspoken. Even then, it is such a prominent reality for many Latinx families that it often hinders healing.
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Mental health can only be cured through home remedies/spirituality.
While natural medicine and spirituality can do wonders for a person’s mental health, these being such a great focus in Latinx communities means that sometimes people don’t seek out medical attention when necessary. When dealing with mental health, it is important for a person to know all of their options; as it is likely that different approaches will work for different people.
Vic’s Vaporub may work with colds and praying a rosary may work when dealing with the absolution of various sins, but these could not have worked as valuable practices when I was trying to overcome the worst of my mental health problems. It is a running inside joke with many young Latinx folk that our parents/grandparents can be deeply rooted in home remedies and spiritual practices ranging from Catholicism to indigenous rituals. They portray these rituals onto us, but it is a reality that sometimes people will rely on these rituals to the point they become hindering instead of being helpful.
Home remedies and spiritual practice are powerful healing tools when dealing with mental health but it is important for Latinx communities to also understand the availability of traditional therapy and medication, which is a valuable resource for those who need it.
If there continues to be stigma against mental health in Latinx communities, healing of any type will be twice as hard to go through. It is crucial that we dismantle the stigma against mental health and provide a safe space for our community where talking about mental health without fear of judgment or accusation is a reality.
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[Feature Image: A black and white image of an individual standing outside with long hair pulled to the back in a ponytail. They are wearing a necklace, tank top and sweater with right hand on hip and frown on face. Source: Flickr.com/Jared eberhardt ]