Growing up in a Latinx household you hear about illnesses such as Cancer, Diabetes, High blood pressure, etc. However, there is a lack of education when it comes to mental health, and because of this there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health in the Latinx community. For example, if you sleep in too long you are considered lazy. If you are sad or self-harming you are considered to be an ‘attention seeker’. I really noticed the impact of stigma first hand in my own family. When my cousin was diagnosed with depression my family never really understood her. She was often told things like she just needed to change and choose to be happy instead of sad. Even though they were not educated on mental health they felt as if they knew what was best for her, and in the long, this contributed more to her declining mental health. It was hard watching my cousin continue to struggle and it was even harder to watch my family judge her which only resulted in her pushing them further away. Throughout her journey she has had multiple suicide attempts and continues to struggle with her mental health. This has not only hurt her, but our family also. I tried to help her by bonding with her and being there for whenever she needed someone.
It wasn’t until I found my internship at NAMI NTX was I able to realize I could help in more ways than just bonding. I began to serve as a mental health advocate for her by bringing members of my family to NAMI to learn more about mental health conditions. I brought her mother in to speak with one of our Spanish Family to Family teachers who was able to connect with her and share her story. Because she was able to connect with someone else in the Latinx community she was able to put away her own misconceptions about mental health conditions. Since then my aunt has been open to learning about her daughter’s struggle with mental health and how to be there fore her.
I have spoken with many individuals throughout my time at NAMI and have learned something new from every person I have encountered. A piece of advice that has really resonated with me was that “Mental health is a lifelong condition and although you can’t cure it with the right medication (if necessary), psychologist, and support you can have a better quality of life.”
Because of my own experiences in my community I have realized just how much stigma can keep someone from getting the proper mental health care. When it comes to medication because they do not understand the purpose of medication relating to the body they feel as if they can eventually become addicted. Therefore, people like my cousin can be influenced by their family members to not take their medication even if it is necessary. In addition to stigma serving as a barrier to receiving proper mental health care communication has been one also. My family’s first language isn’t English there for every day communication can be challenging. Coupled with lack of education regarding mental health and potential miscommunication between my family and the medical provider this often makes seeking help very difficult for my family. Because my family’s native language is not English this often causes embarrassment for them when they do not fully understand what someone is saying. Stigma and a language barrier make it easier for families like mine to just not seek help.
Through my own personal experiences with mental health in my family NAMI has inspired me to spread awareness and continue to advocate for mental health in my own community. Because I am aware of barriers to care such as a language barrier, I dedicated my time at NAMI to raising awareness and furthering education in the Latinx community. I did things like translate our education flyers to Spanish, connect with our Latinx callers, and shared my story with others. By sharing my story, I hope to continue spreading awareness in the Latinx community. By sharing our stories, providing the proper education, and support we can work towards ending the stigma in our own communities’.