Hello, my name is Johnny, and I would like to speak to you about mental health in the Latinx community. Mental health in the Latinx community is stigmatized and I would like to offer you some important notes on why culture and religion contribute to the stigmatization of mental health. Lastly, I will discuss how Latinxs and religious institutions can play a role in de-stigmatizing mental health and encourage those who need it to seek professional treatment.
Before discussing the cultural and religious influences on mental health intervention, I want to provide an understanding of the prevalence of mental health in the US Latinx community. Over 16% of Latinxs who live in the United States reported having a mental illness or major symptoms of a mental illness in the past year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, yet only 1 in 10 Latinxs with those symptoms approached to a mental health professional. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, common mental health disorders found in US Latinxs include generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorder. Even with large portions of the Latinx community experiencing mental health issues, those numbers continue to rise as recent immigration and discrimination policies further marginalize the Latinx population.
While culture encompasses a variety of set practices, beliefs, and language, some aspects of a culture influence the view of mental health. One of the largest factors on why intervention is low in the Latinx community is because of Familismo, a value that demonstrates the involvement and commitment to your family. In this cultural value that the Latinx community holds strongly, it is important to maintain loyalty to your family by expressing any concerns to them, which include your mental health issues. When those mental health issues are expressed, the family intervenes by providing advice and decisions for your well being, which mostly encompasses religion instead of professionals.
Additionally, there are some words or phrases that Latinxs use to demonstrate some symptoms they are feeling in a specific situation, known as a culture-bound syndrome. Some examples of a culture-bound syndrome that is frequently expressed in the Latinx community include Ataque de Nervios, roughly translated to “nervous attack” which encompasses screaming, shaking, crying, and rapid heartbeat, Cólera, roughly translated to “anger” which encompasses uncontrollable outbursts of anger, and Susto or Miedo, which translate to “uncontrollable fear”.
Lastly, the largest factor that emphasizes the stigmatization of mental health issues in the Latinx community is religion. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Latinxs say that religion is very important in their lives, showing that any personal issues that a religious Latinx may have will be taken to their faith rather than a professional. Many Latinx holds their faith so seriously that many of them believe in the just-world hypothesis, meaning that good or bad outcomes happen to people because they deserve it. Dr. Susan Caplan has provided research into this hypothesis where many Latinxs believe that those who suffer from mental health issues do so because of their bad connection with religion. With a strong connection with the church and faith comes a prosperous life, emphasizing social hierarchy and leaving those with mental health issues at the bottom of the hierarchy, further emphasizing the stigma of mental health.
With research showing how Latinx culture and religion reinforces the stigmatization of mental health, I wanted to provide ideas on how intervention can be more present in the Latinx community, which will help decrease stigma. Since 20% of Latinx live below the poverty line, many of them do not have adequate resources for proper medical intervention. Additionally, many Latinxs fear going to seek medical or psychological treatment because of language/cultural barriers, costs, fear of deportation because of immigrant status, and not knowing such services exist. To help address these issues, we must prioritize having Latinxs in the psychological field to help bridge the gap between a marginalized community and treatment. With more Latinx psychologists, we can have more psychologists be representative of the general population and provide culturally-sensitive therapy, all in a manner where Latinxs can feel safe and confident regardless of their immigration status or income.
To provide culturally-sensitive therapy to Latinxs, we must understand the culture they are coming from and how that may play a role in their willingness to engage in therapy. To do so, psychologists should prioritize psychotherapy rather than medication.