As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I am spending the entire month of September highlighting the Hispanic/Latinx community and the issues we face.
Mental health was never something I grew up hearing of, at least not in the proper terms that I learned as I got older. No one in my family was depressed, yet my grandmother did get bouts of la “loquera” (craziness) and would have periods where she wouldn’t eat, talk to anyone, or do anything. No one in my family has anxiety but I did have a few aunts who “sufren de los nervios” (suffering from the “nerves.”) My parents can always recall stories from the “locos” from their towns growing up only for me, later on, to realize that they may have never been crazy, just suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness.
Growing up I learned what depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses were because of school and being exposed to different things of the such through tv and books. But these were not subjects we discussed in my household. The closest I remember coming to talking about things like this was when I was skipping school almost every day in 11th grade and my parents had no idea. Until one day my dad came to the school and found out. When he asked me why I wasn’t going to school (but pretending that I was) I started crying uncontrollably and the school recommended I be put into therapy. Back at that point I was suffering through depression but didn’t really know it and didn’t know why. I just lost all motivation for school. I would stay home all day and go to work after and pretended I had gone to work straight from school.
My parents were genuinely concerned but also completely clueless about what was going on, and not to their fault. They grew up poor as dirt in the Dominican Republic and worked very hard to come to the United States and provide a life for their three daughters. Here is their daughter, a US-born teenager, with clothes on her back, food in her stomach, living a life they never dreamed of, but she was depressed. When you come from a 3rd world country and work 40+ hours a week in a meat factory while your kids have everything they need, you may also ask “what do you have to be ‘sad‘ about,” not truly understanding that depression isn’t about being sad.
As the years pass and the conversation about mental health is becoming more mainstream, my parents have definitely come to learn more and be more understanding of the topic. Just recently, I spent the month of August overcome with anxiety, to the point I had to seek out therapy (which I will discuss my experience within a future blog post.) As a result, I was finally able to have an open and honest conversation with my mom about. However, in the Hispanic/Latinx community, as well as in other communities of people of color, mental health subjects are still taboo. Many people still don’t understand it or believe in things like depression and anxiety. There are many people who don’t believe in it but are suffering from mental health issues. They lack the terms or the knowledge to understand what they are going through.
I have so many friends I know struggling with mental health issues and feel so isolated because they can’t communicate with family. They know their family would say things like “what do you have to be sad about” or “you’re here in the US living the life people back in our country dream about” and things of the like. A lot of people see therapy and medication for mental health issues as a “white people thing.” They tell their kids and loved ones to stop complaining and get to work, or just “pray about it” and God will take care of it. But sometimes work and God isn’t the solution. Stereotypes like this only hurt our community more and shame people into hiding their struggles with mental illnesses.
As someone who has dealt with depression in the past and is currently learning to manage my anxiety, I hope that I can continue to lead a life where these conversations become less taboo. I hope that I can inspire people to be more understanding of mental health issues as well as to seek out help. There is no shame in having depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue. Even if your family does not understand, there is no shame in getting help.