Mental Disparities: Latinos and the Mental Health Stigma

in The Word is Text by

BY LUIS CARRILLO

Mental health issues have taken center stage in the United States but not in the Latino community.

According to the 2010 article published by the APA (The American Psychological Association), 1 out of every 11 Latinos with a mental disorder sought professional health. That is less than 10% of the population. What does this say about the rest of the population?

Socioeconomic status, awareness, and even culture, are some of the barriers the Latino community faces in the United States today. Our culture and our community itself are the biggest barriers Latinos have to deal with on a daily basis. In our community, we label someone who suffers from depression as being “lazy”, someone how is bipolar or suffers from Dysthymia as “crazy or loco”. Yet these diagnoses are among the most common, along with anxiety and stress, within our community. These beliefs represent a serious health concern among the 49 million Latinos living in the United States. The majority of the Latino families are not able to afford the proper health care insurance.

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), 30.9% of Latinas ranging from the age of 13 to 18 will have attempted to commit suicide; that’s 1 out of every 3 girls of high school age. Compare to 9.0% in the African American community and 10.3 in the non-Hispanic community (Caucasians, Asians and other). Many of these youth are misdiagnosed of having anger problem or behavioral problems, which is all too common in schools throughout the country. School officials and parents rather than professional clinicians, are the ones making these diagnoses which ultimately lead to the high percentage of suicide attempts.

Acknowledgement and acceptance of mental health is even more difficult among Latino men. Why one may ask? In our community, we view men as the bread winners and providers of the family, this come from a “machismo” culture in which men are view as weak individual if they complain about any type of illness or are not able to provide for their families, especially if it’s regarding their mental state of mind.

In the Latino community, stigmatism is still the biggest barrier where families do not want to have the label of “being the family with a relative who’s crazy”. Instead of being a concern for the family, it somehow brings shame to them and generations to come.

According to a recent study done by Dr. William Vega, Ph.D., (USC),

“200 depressed and low-income Latinos in Los Angeles; more than half said that depressed people weren’t trustworthy and that they’d be unwilling to socialize with someone who’s depressed. Those self-stigmatizing respondents were less likely to take medication and keep scheduled appointments with primary-care physicians, the study found.” (CNN, 2010).

The statistics are not only alarming but proof that within our community a change must be done. Our culture has gone through changes during the last 50 years. The one area where change is crucial and a must is mental health. Our views about mental health and disorders must change in order for our community to better understand those who suffer from mental health, just as we’ve learned to deal and understand with such illnesses as cancer, AIDS and other health diseases.

Education and acceptance is the key to overcoming stigmatism of someone suffering from mental health. Someone who suffers from a physical illness receives the proper care because they physically show the signs but someone who suffers from a mental disorder or illness will ever show any signs and he/she is more at risk to die than from someone who has cancer. Learning about the signs of mental illness and being able to engage the individual just by asking more questions may end up saving the individual’s life. I know because I suffer from a mental illness and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

For more information, go to the following links:

  1. Latino Community Mental Health fact sheet. (2006). Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Find_Support/Multicultural_Support/Annual_Minority_Mental_Healthcare_Symposia/Latino_MH06.pdf
  2. Dichoso, S. (2010, November 15). Stigma Haunts Mentally Ill Latinos. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/15/latinos.health.stigma/index.htm

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D.