Erasing stigma associated with mental health in Latino community

Members of the Latino community are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and stigma surrounding mental health means they are among those least likely to reach out for support — but a young advocate has ideas for what might help.

Speaking from the experience of organizing a mental health survey of middle and high school students in Gonzales, California, youth council member Magaly Santos said during a virtual news briefing that challenges related to stigma are well-rooted in her community.

The briefing on Thursday was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Living within a majority Hispanic, Latinx farm-working community, many of our peers saw the stigma that our parents had about the topic of mental health alone,” Santos said. Latinx is a gender-neutral term.

“You mention the word social worker and licensed clinical social worker, and they think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to have my children taken away from me,'” Santos said.

Even if someone were to overcome societal challenges of getting counseling related to access and affordability, Santos said many in her community usually aren’t motivated to seek help until there is a major crisis.

Organizers said that, “The latest data show that two out of five Latinos report frequent symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, significantly higher than white and Asian Americans. Losing a job, social isolation, and for some, the fear of deportation, have created extra layers of stress that are worsening their mental and physical health.”

Mental health isn’t something typically discussed at the dinner table.

“It’s not like: ‘Did you feel stress today? Did you feel anxiety? Were you trembling?’ Things like that,” Santos said.

Santos said breaking the cultural and generational stigma surrounding mental health can begin with conversations.

“Once our community is more knowledgeable about what mental health is. What’s anxiety, [what] does stress look like, and that it doesn’t just affect your mind, it affects your whole body,” she said.

Santos believes messages delivered in someone’s native language from someone who is trusted have the best chance of being heard.

“Even when we’re giving out this information with Instagram or with Facebook, we’re making sure they’re in Spanish, so our communities are involved and they know, ‘Hey, there’s going to be this change, maybe I should advocate for it,'” Santos said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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