The Mental Health Stigma
August 6, 2023
While we are fortunate enough to live in an era where mental illnesses can be openly discussed, shared and even treated more than in previous generations, in the melting pot that is the United States, there are many cultures that consider mental illnesses a trait shared by the “weak” among them rather than as a genuine medical condition.
Growing up in a Latinx household provided challenges with my mental health. My mental state was often oppressed by the beliefs professed by most of my family. My family claimed that only crazy people go to therapy, that if I am anxious I should be praying more, and that I have no reason to be upset because I had a roof over my head and food on my plate. This was a difficult situation to navigate for me personally, but one day I discovered that this growing up experience is one shared by many cultures, often by first or second generation Americans.
Due to the stigma against mental health, people who belong to Latinx and Hispanic cultures sometimes are less likely to ask for help - and sometimes refuse to receive any kind of treatment, even if it is available for them. According to Mental Health America, around 10 million Hispanic or Latinx people are reported to suffer from a mental illness - and that is just one culture from among the many who experience this kind of stigma. Furthermore, men from these cultures are often the ones who are the most vulnerable from this mindset because of the ideas of toxic masculinity, which promotes the cultural idea that men are supposed to be strong, and therefore cannot suffer from mental illness because that is a weakness, and admitting to needing help in treating their mental health is an even bigger admission of weakness. The effects of these stigmas is demonstrated in the higher abuse rates of alcohol in which Hispanic men “who choose to drink are more likely to consume higher volumes of alcohol than non-Hispanic Whites” (“Hispanic Subgroups Differ in Rates of Substance Use Treatment Need and Receipt”). Hispanic men will choose substance abuse and alcoholism over admitting to needing help and seeking help out.
While the stigma against mental health makes it challenging for many to seek out mental help, even when that issue can be overcome, finding and building rapport with a mental healthcare provider is another challenge. Latinx and others who suffer from the same cultural boundaries are unable to access healthcare when they do seek it.
As someone who was in the mental health field, I also know that the percentages of those who work in the field of therapy who also belong to the same minority group, are difficult to find. There is also the enormous challenge of language barriers to overcome, which also decrease the chances for minorities to find, receive, and regularly access quality help. It is a struggle enough to experience the stigma from your loved ones and overcome it to begin looking for help, the process of actually finding someone who can help you is a tremendous undertaking on its own. While the population of the United States is made up of 16% Latinx, a mere 5% of therapists fall under that ethnicity, which makes it difficult for Latinx individuals to find therapists who share their cultural backgrounds and languages - a struggle that is not unique to just the Latinx population.
The stigma against mental health within these cultures should be discussed because it informs and shapes deep issues within society. This taboo topic causes individuals to not only oppress their emotions, but turn to substance abuse, in addition to stigmatizing and ostracizing people who do seek out and are able to acquire mental healthcare. We have to not only discuss these issues openly, but change the way our cultures view mental illnesses. It starts at home, with our friends, and through informing ourselves and others on the deeply rooted issues within our cultures.
Everyone who is in need of help should be able to receive it.