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Conquering Mental Health Stigmatization Within Latinx Communities

The manifestation of mental illness within Latinx individuals has gained a significant amount of prevalence—and so has the decimation of their vocalization. Living amid a community where mental illness is heavily stigmatized has made it an arduous task for these individuals, especially the Latinx youth, to overtly express their concerns with family members. Mental illness is a subject that’s oftentimes swept aside in an effort to sustain the image of “normalization,” as anything that doesn’t directly suit said image is promptly deemed as an inconvenience. How do you begin to express something that’s glossed over and met with neglect?

When I first approached my mother about the prospect of me having depression, her expression waned and a rushed string of words came out of her, claiming that my sadness may be a result of hormones and adolescence. It was something completely alien to me, as mental health was something scarcely brought up, and I feared that her perception of me would be distorted, that I’d be considered a “loca” within the family—something I’ve heard mentally ill individuals referred to as. My own naivety and fear regarding my emotions led to the suppression and denial of my depression, which in turn worsened my condition.

As immigrants from the Dominican Republic, my mother and father didn’t fully grasp the facets of mental illness, seeing as it’s not something they’ve frequently encountered among their culture. After consistent bouts of irritation and prolonged sadness, I finally mustered the courage to tell my doctor about my emotions and she handed me a list of mental health institutions I could attend for therapy. Initially, I feared my mother would brush off my doctor’s words and proceed to walk out the cramped room with the paper crumbled in her fist. But, to my astonishment, she gingerly accepted my doctor’s suggestion. I vividly recall the fear lodged in my chest as I entered the therapy center for the first time, its walls casting a dull green finish.

I felt a sense of constraint not only in regards to emotion but in physicality as well. I moved stiffly and heat rose in my cheeks; though my blush was slight, I felt as if it were simultaneously scorching my skin. I kept thinking of what my mother’s train of thought must be. I kept thinking of how we both muffled our voices and kept these sessions to ourselves. As our meetings went on, my therapist, who spoke Spanish and articulated well to my mother in terms of guidance and explanations, ended up providing me with an outlet other than writing—it enabled me to interact, to vocalize, and to come to terms with my diagnosis. Through subsequent therapy sessions, my mother gained a level of comprehension and empathy for my depression. She assisted me in ridding my life of toxicity and no longer dismissed my sadness as a mere case of hormones.

Being Latina in a community that doesn’t acknowledge the heavy complexities of mental illness is at times exhausting. I spent four years stuffing and internalizing my emotions in order to paint a façade and display something that was not authentic—and I soon learned that that was the largest detriment to my condition. I discovered different mechanisms, such as poetry and dance, that contributed to the betterment of my illness. I’ve stopped epitomizing recovery and perceiving it as the end goal. Rather, I’ve begun paving smaller steps that help me cope. I’ve yet to let go of the prodding fear of being dehumanized or perceived differently among other family members as a result of my depression; however, I still attain a drive to amplify my voice and bring about awareness of the imperativeness behind assisting Latinx individuals in seeking proper therapy and not be afraid of doing so.

It’s difficult to encounter the revelation of having a mental illness, and it’s even more difficult to verbalize to others about it. At first, I thought I’d be more susceptible and devalued because of it. As time went on, however, I utilized it as a way to strengthen my grasp on autonomy and identity. I began writing intensively because of it, from jotted notes that I spewed onto paper at one in the morning, to prose and poetry that I read out loud at readings. Action and gestures, be it small or large, are what will further allow us to dismantle the pervasive stigmatization of mental illness among Latinx communities and what will, in turn, allow us to curate an environment where individuals do not feel as if their voices are restrained.

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