Latinx Mental Health: Finding Resources in Your Family and Community
"Our communities are embedded in collectivist values in which we deal with distress by reaching out for support from family, good friends, and important members of the community." -Silvia
How do you support Latinx mental health?
I am the Director of the Latino Youth & Family Immigration Project: Dímelo en Español at Ackerman Institute. We are a project in the institute that provides family therapy to first and second generation Latinx immigrant families. We offer a specialized framework that, at its core, emphasizes cultural sensitivity and resiliency in families. I facilitate therapeutic conversations about immigration loss, the unique experience of parenting bicultural/bilingual children, transnationalism, identity, trauma and more recently, about the current sociopolitical climate. We do this using the families' mother tongue language, Spanish.
It is my experience, as a Latina and a family therapist, that the Latinx community heals their emotional and psychological wounds in a traditional and collective manner. Our communities are embedded in collectivist values in which we deal with distress by reaching out for support from family, good friends, and important members of the community. They seek refuge in spiritual or religious forms and alleviate sorrows using holistic remedies passed down by ancestors.
At Ackerman Institute, we applaud their abilities and describe family therapy or mental health support as an addition to their repertoire of unique ways of helping themselves. We reassure them that the therapy room is a safe space in which members of their family can have difficult conversations in the presence of loved ones and in this process repair relationships. These conversations are needed in order to reconcile losses, resentments, bridge cultural gaps, and just as importantly, celebrate growths and joys.
I also believe that it is our duty as members of the Latinx community to recognize that Latinx immigrant individuals and families face inequitable barriers when attempting to access mental health services. Lack of health insurance, linguistic limitations, complex medical systems, fear of authoritative figures due to lack of stable immigration status, and culturally inefficient institutions are some of the impediments for Latinx families to getting appropriate mental health services. The next step after recognizing these barriers is to remove them.
What are some of the biggest myths you’ve heard about Latinx mental health? How do you dispel these myths and fight stigma?
A misconception could be that Latinx families are “resistant” to mental health help, meaning they either don’t seek it, believe in it or when they are receiving it, they are uncommitted. It is in my experience that these families when in distress, look for support in traditional and collective forms, as I mentioned before. I believe it's not that they are resistant to support but that many institutions or organizations are not prepared to meet the cultural needs of Latinx families. What I mean is that there are systems in place in these institutions that lack the sensitivity needed to attend to the needs of these families. For instance, they could provide training on cultural competence and sensitivity for administrative and professional staff, bilingual services, and facilitate access by removing potential financial or health insurance constraints. These are just some ways to fight the misconception that Latinx are resistant to mental health services.
I also think that socioeconomic status plays a big role when it comes to openness to seek and believe in mental health services. Experiences either in their home countries or once here in the United States assisted by financial availability and level of education make families more or less trusting of mental health services. Families who do not have experience with mental health services and are misinformed of what it is might fall victims of stigma. A way to fight stigma is to inform families using their language, literally and sensitively. For instance, instead of advertising and explaining mental health services in medical terms, we can explain to them that psychotherapy is a safe space for difficult conversations, for reparative conversations among family members. Another example is that instead of suggesting group therapy for depression, perhaps we can advertise it as a support group for girls or parents, or in Spanish: “grupo de apoyo y guia para familias” or “conversacions reparadoras para madres y padres de adolescentes”.
What are some tips you give to young Latinx with mental health concerns?
When I work with adolescents who have concerns about coming to therapy, I justify their experience. It’s very understandable that adolescents would not want to be in therapy. In these situations, I ask them to give it a try and if after two to three sessions they still feel that way, then we, with the parent, would consider alternatives. Generally, after speaking about their interests and hopes, they begin to feel comfortable to share their troubles.
When it comes to tips about mental health, provide parents with concrete information about mental health issues and care but also help them become aware of the resources within themselves to guide and model for their children. Depending on the context of the concern, I often speak about hope to families and ask them to hold on to hope while helping them deal with the problem. I also help them and suggest ways to communicate with their loved ones in a healthier and reciprocal way. Often, I make suggestions about finding community in places they feel as they fit in or belong.
What are some resources you suggest for the Latinx community?
I believe that they, meaning the families themselves, are fountains of resources, and if they believe they are not, then they can be. Their communities are also full of resources and if they are not, they can be. My role is to help Latinx families feel empowered by facilitating therapeutic conversations, offering culturally sensitive services and removing barriers for access to our services. My hope is that by doing this, they will have strong relationships with each other and with their communities.