Stigma, treatment impact mental health in Hispanic community

By Monica Davila

National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. During this month, Prosper Waco wants to highlight the factors that impact mental health within the Hispanic community. These factors consist of stigma surrounding mental health and treatment issues.

The stigma surrounding mental health

Societal expectations and categorization of individuals who meet those expectations are culturally determined. There is a saying, “la ropa sucia se lava en casa,” which implies, “don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” It enforces the belief that personal struggles should not be discussed outside of the home.

Susan Caplan of Rutgers University School of Nursing has studied Hispanic perspectives on mental health. Participants in Caplan’s study “overwhelmingly reported negative associations they held toward people with serious mental illness.” Participants “perceived” persons with serious mental illness to be violent and out of control. These beliefs stemmed from how mental health has been portrayed throughout the media.

The study also discussed how depression is often denied. A participant described being depressed as being worse than being sick. She stated, “with a sickness[,] you can be operated on, you recover, but not with depression.” With this mindset, acknowledging the existence of depression and mental health conditions is equivalent to acknowledging the inability to support the family, lack of marriageability, and more. Therefore, it is easier for individuals to deny its existence.

Treatment issues

The Hispanic community faces various issues when it comes to seeking treatment, such as the following:

● The cultural stigma associated with mental health;

● The lack of knowledge/awareness about mental health problems and services available,

Hispanic individuals are more likely to seek help for a mental health concern from a primary care provider than a mental health specialist;

● Language barriers due to a shortage of bilingual or linguistically trained mental health professionals;

● Problems with identifying psychiatric symptoms when the complaint is a physical symptom; and

● Lack of insurance or inadequate insurance,

Nationally, 21.1% of Hispanics are uninsured, compared with 7.5% of White non-Hispanic Americans.

Next steps

Throughout this article, we have discussed the struggles within talking about and obtaining mental health support within the Hispanic community. How can we normalize talking about mental health? We have the power to prioritize restructuring the conversation.

  1. It begins with yourself. Take time to think about how your upbringing may shape your perspective on mental health. Are you allowing yourself to feel? It is okay to be upset or to be sad. It is a part of life. By acknowledging your emotions, you can work on how to process through them.

  2. Talk to your loved ones. Within the Hispanic community, there are strong family networks. As addressed previously, a family network may hold a negative perspective on mental health. However, the family network can also have a positive impact on mental health. By talking to your loved ones about your mental health, you are opening up the opportunity for them to learn something new, like how mental health impacts everyone and how they may be able to support you.

  3. Language matters. Using derogatory terms is a part of the negative stigma surrounding mental health. By using offensive terms, you may also be creating a harmful environment for a loved one who may be struggling with their mental health.

These steps take time. Have patience and be gentle with yourself and your loved ones.

Monica Davila is the behavioral health policy fellow with Prosper Waco. It is a position funded by the Hogg Foundation.