We MUST bring culture into the conversation of mental health awareness.
There are certain characteristics and traditions that need to be updated within our culture, especially when dealing with our mental health. When it came to even mentioning therapy, my father tended to say, “If you can’t help yourself, no one can.” There are times when saying, “Ponte las pilas” is just not conducive to understanding how to handle or manage certain situations that affect our mental states. But let’s face it, it’s long overdue to have open conversations about how we take care of our mental health because there is a mental health crisis within our community.
I knew absolutely nothing about mental health or even mental illness as a young person. Life in my household, at times, felt uneasy. We knew there were gender roles. You know, those stereotypical ones where the women stay home to take care of the children, to cook, to clean, and the men are the breadwinners. To this day, as a result of my conditioning, I still wait to be called on in unfamiliar environments. I knew that certain experiences within my family were not normal. For example, the family block parties ended up with all of the adults drunk and a little too handsy for my comfort.
Another instance was when my mother threw a piece of pizza at my father and told him, “I hope you choke on it and die.” My mother would sit in her bedroom for hours in the dark, wanting nothing to do with anyone, especially my father. My father would give us doses of the most incredible silent treatment I’ve ever known. You just don’t understand what is happening as a young person who knows nothing about the dynamic of broken people with unhealthy coping mechanisms who happen to be your parents.
I feel like we are expected to hold on to some kind of toxic tradition that does not leave room for us to decide for ourselves as individuals what exactly should be part of our identity.
Can we please understand that it is okay to get help? Despite what anyone says, especially our loved ones who have no business telling us, “Ponte las pilas,” when they clearly demonstrate unrealistic and unhealthy coping mechanisms. When we see that our parents are always in flight or fight mode, there has got to be a different way of dealing with the challenges of life.
Can we explore self-care to talk numbers? A third of Hispanics with a mental health disorder get treatment, per the Department of Health and Human Services, compared to 45% of non-Hispanics in the U.S. With these statistics, it shows us that the likelihood that we seek some kind of treatment is bleak. It is crucial to begin normalizing mental health self-care just as we do with our physical health. Why is it so hard to talk about?
When we look at the fact that the suicide rate for Hispanics increased by 6.8% from 2018 to 2021 according to the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has got to be some kind of acknowledgement that there is something indeed wrong.
Culture is a part of this epidemic that is inflicting our community and until we start calling it out, the outdated cultural norms will continue to silence us in how we manage and maintain our wellbeing. There are structures that don’t deserve to live on to continue toxic cycles. We owe it to our next generation to show that we can embrace our culture in ways that contribute positively to the most amazing and enriching influences of our beautiful raíces.
American Psychological Association. (2022). Demographics of U.S. Psychology Workforce [Interactive data tool]. Retrieved 23 June 2023, from https://www.apa.org/workforce/data-tools/demographics