Navigating Mental Health in the Latinx and Hispanic Community

As an Hondureña, September is the month to celebrate. We celebrate Día del Niño (National Children's Day), Día de la Independencia (Independence Day), and Día del Profesor (National Teacher Appreciation Day), which, for me, means a lot of phone calls to family members, good food and prideful feelings towards my country.

Living in the United States, however, has taught me about mental health — a pressing issue that many Hondurans and Latinx/Hispanic people don't talk about, much less on a national scale, in any month.

Though it's a topic that's gaining increasing recognition in some social spheres, mental health remains a taboo subject in the Latinx/ Hispanic community. It's something I, for one, still struggle to talk about, despite my parents and family members being nothing short of supportive. Moreover, it's affecting Latinx and Hispanic youth and adults in the United States at an increasing rate. 

According to Mental Health America, serious mental illness is on a rise in Latinx/ Hispanic young adults ages 18-25 (4 to 6.4 percent) as well as adults ages 26-49 (2.2 to 3.9 percent). Major depressive episodes are also increasing in youth ages 12-17 (from 12.6 to15.1 percent), young adults ages 18-25 (8 to 12 percent) and those from 26-49 (4.5 to 6 percent). While this research shows an upward trend in the number of Latinx and Hispanic people working through mental health problems, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America shows that the percentage of people speaking to doctors about their psychological symptoms or reaching out to a mental health specialist is relatively low, 20 percent and 10 percent respectively.

Though there is an increasing amount of resources available to Latinx/Hispanics regarding mental health, many people are still reluctant to talk about their symptoms to health care professionals and their family members due to familial or cultural views on mental health. Some see mental health struggles as feelings or emotions that are temporary and resolve on their own. Others see it as a weakness that calls for toughening up. But for many, opening up about one's emotions, much less mental health, is hard enough.

In a culture where hard work, self-sufficiency and the family are all highly valued, many disregard their mental health and put it off to the side, believing that it's not as important as their (and their family's) physical and overall wellness. In a video I recently stumbled upon titled "Why Latino Dads Don't Say 'I Love You,'" three sons sit down and read a letter they wrote expressing their gratitude and love for their fathers and watch their reaction. I won't spoil the ending, but, through the tears, I was able to see a glimpse of the perspectives and attitudes some Latinx fathers have towards their sons when it comes to showing affection. The video reinforces the idea that, not only can these more difficult conversations about emotions and mental health take place between Latinx/Hispanic (and all!) families, but that they should take place. To many Latinx/Hispanic community members, it is clear that one's family does care for and love them, it's just that they don't know how to communicate this support. Having these conversations is key in developing more understanding relationships between family members and dismantling rooted, harmful stigmas.

While new solutions and ways of addressing the stigmatism behind mental health are being furthered, as mentioned by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, focusing on overall education about mental health and its destigmatization works to break through the real — but sometimes unacknowledged — cultural, financial and language barriers that can separate the Latinx/ Hispanic community from the resources and help they need. Open conversations between family members should be encouraged, specifically conversations about outer pressures, like the increased polarization on immigration issues and xenophobic rhetoric. These issues are part of why members of the Latinx/Hispanic populations are experiencing mental health struggles at an earlier age to begin with.

We all have a responsibility to advocate for mental health awareness. While these issues are mostly given attention in certain months, like May and September, we should make it a priority to ensure that mental health and suicide prevention awareness are issues we talk about year-round.