The holiday season is a joyous time for many, but for others, this time of year can bring feelings of sadness, isolation and anxiety. And with COVID-19 casting a long shadow among Latinos, finding that holiday spirit can be especially difficult. A 2020 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 18% of Latino respondents reported having seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness statistics, while Latinos are as vulnerable to mental illness as any other demographic, only 34% of Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment compared to the US average of 45%.
Ernestina Perez, licensed clinical therapist and founder of Latinx Talk Therapy says that among Latinos, expectations for family time the season can run high.
“With the Latino community, the values instilled are family – not just your mom, dad, but it’s extended family, you got your cousins, those primas and primos, everyone coming together and there is an expectation that you’re going to follow maybe certain moral religious practices … and celebrate the time together,” Perez said. “However, when we are interacting with family, there’s always going to be things that are going to come up for us, especially if they haven’t been processed before or talked about.”
Director for mental health at Rincon Family Services Francis Ferrer says for many immigrants, feelings of depression can be rooted in the experience of having to adjust to a new culture.
“They’re between two cultures … isolation and learning how to live in these cultures too. So for the Latino [it’s] not easy for them to build relationships out of their surroundings … it’s like a beginning for the new life here,” said Ferrer. “The depression comes when they, sometimes they live by themselves, they have no one to contact now with the pandemic. So they isolate more.”
Language barriers, lack of health insurance coverage, and a cultural stigma surrounding mental health are contributing factors to the relatively low rates of care amongst Latinos.
“There’s a lot of stigma in the community about what mental health is … there’s just not, generationally, experiences where people have sought out treatment or have even had the opportunity to learn the words to express themselves emotionally, let alone the skills that it takes to manage and treat mental health issues,” Perez said. “Sometimes there’s issues that have been around for a long time haven’t been talked about and that can be experienced as a grief, as a disconnection between family members, emotional cutoffs, history of abuse, addictions, alcoholism, and the community doesn’t have the words to say, oh, you know what, this is a mental health issue.”
Educating people on the signs of depression and eliminating feelings of shame about mental health are key to getting people to seek out help.
“We have a couple of not-for-profit agencies that will provide services to the client, individual and family services. Sometimes they suffer because they don’t, they’re not educated,” Ferrer said. “We should start working and educating the people that are having the symptoms [that] it’s not a shame. And to recognize when [they] need help, and to train people to recognize when the person is going through a depression so they can help them.”
Perez offers a few signs of depression to look out for amongst friends and family, and how to gently offer help.
“If you’re noticing that somebody feels a little bit isolated, they seem perhaps sad or they’ve expressed they feel empty … I think the first thing is to address it, head on, directly,” said Perez. “Talk to the person and just say, ‘hey, how are you feeling? Is there anything I could do to help you feel better? Do you want to talk about it?’ I think just opening the dialogue can get them started.”