For Fear Of Being Labeled ‘Loco’, Hispanics Dodge Mental Health Resources And Suffer
Originally published by Forbes, October 13, 2022
What do Hispanics fear more than a friend arriving on time (or even worse, EARLY) to the party they are hosting? The answer: talking about mental illnesses! As much as Hispanics turn a blind eye to being “on time”, they close both eyes to any sort of conversation about mental illnesses or therapy. And trust me, it’s not because Hispanics are somehow immune to mental health illnesses. It’s largely due to the fact that, culturally, Hispanics tend to prioritize personal resilience over vulnerability; which puts them in a position where “asking for help” is the last option.
Growing up in a Mexican household, this was very much the case. Any time anyone wasn’t feeling mentally well, the answer was something like “eat some pozole, you’ll feel better”. For more extreme displays of mental issues, one was called ‘loco’ and silently dismissed. These examples are becoming more and more problematic as the rate of mental illnesses becomes pervasive across all ethnic groups.
In the United States alone, more than 16% of the Latinx community struggles with a mental health condition. This is nearly 10 million people. This is roughly the population of a country like Greece or Sweden. Imagine if everyone in Greece had a mental health illness and no one seeked help or at the very least, therapy!? Those picturesque, well-visited islands, like Santorini, would cease to exist. And while mental health doesn’t discriminate against any one community, it does affect non-White populations at prolonged rates. Such that, depression in Blacks and Hispanics is likely to be more persistent than in White populations. So why does it feel like everyone is rushing to help the privileged white girl combat mental health but not the marginalized latina student sitting two desks down? My money is on three things-stigma, lack of information, and a screwed up perception that helping the white girl will be more profitable for someone’s bottom line.
Serious young millennial woman making hand stop gesture at home.
Stigma plays an antagonist role here and starts the domino effect: stigma can mean it’s taboo to talk about, read about, or even think about how you might be struggling with depression, anxiety, anger issues, or even an eating disorder. Then, this stigma can further lead to lack of information easily and readily available. Then, with no information at your disposal, you might not even know you need help, let alone be in a position to seek out this help. This might feel like a never ending cycle of doom. Afterall, even for those Hispanics that manage to reap care, numbers show it is more likely to be poor in quality.
Apart from the above challenges, it has been documented that non-white communities are less likely to utilize mental health solutions (such as telehealth therapy) than their Caucasian counterparts. This is partly because of the stigma mentioned above, but also because of the medical community’s well documented Western European bias (a bias that goes double for digital health). Meanwhile, the pandemic exacerbated how likely Hispanic and Black people (especially those unemployed and essential workers) were to report mental health issues. So while the problem is increasing, solutions are not. This is how inequities get inflamed over time. Thankfully, some groups agree and are doing something about it.
On the social side, there has been an explosion of informal and accessible ways social media accounts communicate information to those in need. Through a combination of humor and cheeky language, accounts like LatinxTherapy (100K+ followers), Perolike (400K+ followers), Hijadetumadre (330K+ followers), and Weallgrowlatina (250K+ followers) have garnered widespread appeal by talking about “unsexy” topics like mental health. Additionally, start-ups like Daisies are creating virtual and in-person communities where talking about mental health is celebrated. Karla, the CEO of Daisies, understands there are successful businesses to be built here and says “Physical and mental health continues to carry a very strong taboo for us Latinas; we must not only attack them with good publicity and awareness, but put them into practice, make prevention around our health not just a fad, but a habit”.
Furthermore, Regina, the founder and CEO of Cuentame, hinted at how important this issue is when she said, “Mental health is a must-walk-the-talk issue that needs to be addressed in every workspace. It is a right every human being should have access to; nevertheless, less than 6% of the population has ever accessed it. Let’s create a tremendous impact, where people can live and thrive.”
While Cuentame and Daisies both focus on populations residing in Mexico and Latin America, there are some parallels between their customer bases and Hispanics living in the United States. I would even argue the issues of the latter are greater given the added challenge of carrying a bicultural identity. Therefore, solutions specific to the U.S. Latinx population are necessary. One such start-up that has taken on this challenge is MiSalud.
Until recently, there was not a single mental health tech startup that was focused on the U.S. Latinx population. Fortunately, MiSalud has changed that narrative. MiSalud provides this community with access to mental health coaches and licensed psychologists, on an unlimited basis, for a low monthly fee. And some local governments have taken notice. For example, MiSalud Health recently partnered with Los Angeles County and the City of Lynwood to bring these services to members of their communities. They have been delivering outstanding results through a series of mental health programs and workshops. Although still in its infancy, there are early signs of success such that Lynwood city council member Rita Soto notes “with so much going on in the world, our residents need to know that they can seek help and guidance and we’re very proud we can provide that.”
So, next time you see someone struggling with mental health issues, don’t simply dismiss them as ‘loco’. Chances are, she or he is internally crying out for help. After all, with more than 10M U.S. Hispanics suffering from mental illnesses, society cannot afford to keep brushing it under the rug. Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping for a mentally healthier society, we should be advocating for startups like MiSalud.