“I’ve been going to therapy”
“Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m spiraling out of control. I feel defeated, anxious, sad, I had a panic attack at a parking lot. I feel mentally unwell.”
Silence fills the room
“Ay mijo. What you need to do is pray and have faith. You need more sleep. You need to stop going out so much. Stop wasting your money at therapists! I can do a limpia and pray with you, but you have to believe.”
A limpia is a spiritual cleansing where they pass a raw egg through your body. It is supposed to absorb some of your energy so they can diagnose you. They crack it into water and depending on the bubbles, yolk, and white texture in the water they tell you what your ailment is.
My mom is a well-intentioned, emotional, catholic, Mexican woman. When we had that exchange, she meant to help me. Her eyes displayed concern, sympathy. Her hand was on my shoulder providing a heartfelt therapeutic touch. But by providing her own take on what was “wrong with me” what she actually did, was dismiss my mental health.
Too often I’ve heard of similar stories. Stories where our mental health issues have been dismissed by our own bloodline. Stories where our struggles have been minimized to a trivial diagnosis by a family member where you end up thinking “hmm, maybe I am overreacting.” But most commonly, I’ve heard stories of people who don’t even feel comfortable sharing their mental health issues with their families for fear of ridicule or disbelief. As I kept contemplating the subject I identified a common denominator. The people in my stories all come from Hispanic backgrounds.
I am not claiming that Hispanic people have more mental health issues. I am noting that the rate of acceptance of mental health issues amongst white families appears to be higher than in hispanic families (based on my own experiences with white acquaintances and media depiction of the topic). According to a report from the American Psychiatric Association, people from racial/ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental health care. For example, in 2015, among adults with any mental illness, 48% of white people received mental health services, compared with 31% of black people and Hispanics, and 22% of Asians. There is clearly a disconnect, but what is causing it?
Speaking from my own experience, as a queer, Latinx MOC, mental health stigma prevented me from seeking help at times I so desperately needed it. My own family used to view people with mental health issues as “locos,” a therapist being a “loquero.” And that’s not even mentioning being on antidepressants or other prescribed drugs. That’s a whole other stigma altogether. I managed my mental health issues all by myself. I seek help, I committed to therapy and investing on my mental wellbeing, I got my own prescription medications, I suffered in silence. While I feel extremely proud of being able to piece my life together on my own, a little support from my family would’ve been appreciated.
I crave for a world where a teenager can openly talk about his depression with his family. A world where your race or ethnicity play no role in how you treat your illness. A world where therapy is not demonized. Until then, we can start by breaking the cycle, starting from our own families. It might be challenging, but don’t be afraid of correcting ignorant comments or assumptions from your relatives. Do not let anybody minimize your feelings or emotions. The normalization of mental health issues is a big step towards acceptance. It starts from within. Accept your mental health issues and seek resources that might help you cope. Stigma is unfortunately not a problem that we can eradicate overnight, but we can all start by educating our own families.