What Your Patients are Hearing

For Latino patients, mental illness often goes untreated

Intergenerational trauma, attitudes can allow cycles of depression, anxiety to continue


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The stigma tied to mental illness can be particularly difficult to overcome for people of Latin American descent, writes Concepción de León in El Espace, a column in the New York Times focused on news and culture relevant to Latinx communities. Sometimes those seeking help run into familiar mantras. “Let me know if any of these sound familiar: 'Boys don’t cry. We don’t air family business. You have to be strong. Turn to God.' These refrains (all of which I’ve heard at least once...) are just some of the responses that people dealing with mental health challenges in Latino communities have come to know well,” Ms. de León wrote. The unequal access to mental health services and health insurance that is a reality for some Latinos compounds the problem. The result is that mental illness can go untreated. Indeed, according to Ms. de León, Latinos, who are just as likely to suffer from a mental illness as non-Hispanic whites, are half as likely to seek treatment. Adriana Alejandre, a Latina who is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, is seeking to change that statistic. Through her podcast, Latinx Therapy, she seeks to spread the word that seeking therapy for mental illness is a positive step. There’s a long way to go, partly because Latino communities tend to value the group over the individual. “The downfall is that people suffer in silence,” said Ms. Alejandre. Therapy is important for some Latinos, according to Ms. Alejandre, because of intergenerational trauma that “allows the cycle to continue – whether it’s trauma, whether it’s depression, anxiety, domestic violence.” Ms. de León said one strategy she used for more than 1 year while she was in therapy was to set boundaries by not sharing what she was doing with family members. “It is tough when family sees you as ungrateful for healthy behaviors like boundary setting,” Ms. Alejandre said. “But the system will not change if someone does not initiate the change.” The New York Times.

Some state governments are seeking to make mental health services more available. The proposed budget of democratic Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin aims to allocate $22 million in mental health funding to school districts in the state to pay for social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses. The money would come on top of the $3 million designated by his predecessor and continues the efforts in Wisconsin to give children with mental health problems more access to needed help. The proposed budget also would add $7 million to a state program that works with local health agencies with the goal of providing mental health services for students and would allocate about $2.5 million annually for school staff training. The news is welcome to school districts across Wisconsin. “Schools are struggling to meet all of those [mental health] needs. I think there is an understanding that this is really something we need to be addressing,” said Joanne Juhnke, policy director at Wisconsin Family Ties, which helps families with children who have mental health challenges. Post Crescent, part of the USA Today network.


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