Kristen Bryant-Bodies

Mental Health Is No Laughing Matter, Latinx Parents

With each passing year, the topic of mental health gets more and more discussed, and with good reason. It’s a topic that concerns everyone, not just people who have mental illnesses, mental health issues, and/or personality disorders. 

As many people inform themselves and try to be respectful of others’ mental health and boundaries, cultural differences become an obstacle in treating and understanding mental illnesses. In Latinx culture, it’s far too common for parents to misunderstand or misinterpret the influence of mental illnesses on the well-being of their kids. So, mom and dad, mental health isn’t a joke.

One of the general particularities about Latinx culture is how tightly-knit families are. People tend to stay near each other as the years go by. It’s more common for communities to be comprised of several large families that live close to each other. Even if family members move away, it’s unusual for people to not see their families for years on end. 

The family dynamic of Latinx families usually centers around the well-being of the family instead of each and every person’s individual health. When the overall concept of the family is more important than the members of the family, it can be pretty isolating to be the black sheep. Steering away from what a family is supposed to be—and represent within a larger community—is scary territory for many Latinx parents.

Within Latinx families, it becomes far easier to throw serious matters under the rug for the sake of maintaining the general well-being of the family, even if that state is superficial or non-sustainable. Mental health matters are part of the issues that Latinx parents tend to dismiss as inconsequential or unimportant, especially when the way they treat their kids may be a contributing factor to their deteriorating mental health.

One of the most common situations is when Latinx parents want to have too much control over what their kids do. They fear that their children may fail, face random tragedies, or simply not be enough to survive life’s trials and tribulations. Often, they don’t want their kids to repeat their same mistakes, so they micromanage their kids’ lives in hopes of seeing them succeed where they may have failed. 

What Latinx parents fail to see is that not permitting their children to make mistakes and live their lives as they choose limits their capacity to grow. Instead of limiting their decisions, parents should focus on fostering a healthy, supportive circle that tries to understand instead of judge; that warns, yet does not prohibit necessary and slightly risky situations; but overall, that understands how life has changed since they were young. 

Latinx families, more than anything, seem to fear change. This outlook on life can be rooted in a conservative religious background, the psychological effects of living in postcolonial societies where change is uncommon, or even the concept of having had to live in a tightly-knit family that rarely ever changed the way they lived as a means of survival. However, many Millenial and Gen Z kids aren’t facing the same harsh struggles that their parents faced in the past. That is to say, yes, it’s okay to worry, parents, but worry about the right things. 

Your kids will most likely be fine on their own if you’ve raised them to be independent. If you were strict and stern about the dangers of the nightlife scene, your kids will know what to expect and be vigilant. Taking into consideration the number of times that you suffered or wept about others’ situations, it’s likely your kids will stay out of trouble just to make sure you don’t worry about them. The truth of the matter is that we don’t want to make you suffer, either. We just want to live our lives the same way you got to.

When a son or daughter tells their parents that they need them to be less controlling of how they live their life, or what clothes they should wear, where they should hang out, or with who, it’s merely a sign of them being aware of how they want to live. This controlling aspect that Latinx parents implement can border on emotional abuse when they suppress their child’s identity. More often than not, this obsessive controlling spree tends to dissipate when kids reach their adult years, but it’s not uncommon for many Latinos to have internalized years of scolding and nagging to the point of repressing themselves from exploration. On the darker side, many develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that take them years to understand and replace as they discover them in their adult interpersonal relationships.

Moreso, a mental health worry that is expressed to a parent should NOT be treated lightly. Children can be depressed, anxious, have suicidal tendencies, or feel conflicted. They have a right to feel complicated emotions in the way adults do. They can have doubts, worries, and not feel in control of their lives even if they don’t technically have anything to their name. Except, they do: their identities.

A parent’s job, more than providing, protecting, and caring, is helping a child to discover their identity and grow up to feel confident and happy with who they are. Prohibiting this self-exploration sets up the foundation for later years of confusion, late exploration, and in the worst of cases, the development of complexes that make people feel as if they never had a proper childhood or adolescence.

All the love and support that a Latinx family offers should be offered without the toxic family dynamic of codependence. A family should love each other for who they are instead of what each member thinks of the other, what each member was thought they would be, and how they pertain to the rest of society. None of that should matter. Our mental health is more important at the end of the day. 

If you are thinking about suicide or just need to talk to someone, you can speak to someone by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and or by texting HOME to 741741, the Crisis Text Line. Also check out Puerto Rico’s Suicide Prevention Resource Center.