The U.S. Surgeon General recently released an advisory trying to call attention to “the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection in our country.” Dr. Vivek Murthy stated, “Loneliness and isolation represent profound threats to our health and well-being.”
The mental health crisis disproportionately impacts the Latinx community.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.4% of Latinos struggled with mental health in 2020, but only 35% received treatment compared to the nearly half of white persons who received treatment. Culturally, seeking mental health services still carries a stigma within the Latinx community. Fears of reporting immigration status, being labeled as “loco,” and speaking about personal issues with a stranger contribute to this stigma.
In a world that feels so disconnected, I think back to my abuela’s house. My brother and I loved spending the night there with my abuela, aunts, and cousins. My abuela’s house was filled with many generations and perspectives that provided wisdom and empathy in every situation. I was fed all the rice and beans, while also being provided sweet treats from the local grocery store up the street. We often played games and engaged in storytelling to pass the time. Most importantly, I remember being engulfed by so much love and laughter.
As I reflect on those days at my abuela’s, I realize that many of these needs were met for me and my brother. Many cultures celebrate these things – togetherness, food, games and storytelling, and yet we have moved so far away from that – that loneliness is now a public health danger.
Therapists are an important part of this work but cannot be the only solution, especially when resources are lacking. We must acknowledge that mental health encompasses our whole being – emotional, physical, and social. This allows us to broaden our focus and perspective on fostering overall wellness beyond the therapy room. As we think about how we move forward in solving the mental health crisis, we need to expand our thinking around what brings healing in our bodies and communities.
According to a survey done by KFF and CNN, 90% of U.S. adults believe the country is facing a mental health crisis. In 2022, Mental Health America ranked California 24th and my home state of Texas at 33rd for overall mental health and services. Massachusetts was ranked first and Nevada last.
People have started using social media platforms such as Tik Tok and Instagram for mental health advice and diagnoses, which are often inaccurate – not to mention the emerging research on the dangers of social media on our mental health. In 2018, a British study connected social media usage with delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss and poor academic performance. And we know that mental health impacts physical health. We live in a world of juxtaposition, where 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the U.S. use social media and yet feel the most disconnected.
Our ancestors got it right though – they treated mental health as a whole person experience. It wasn’t simply about just showing up in therapy but showing up for others, in community. Although we do not have reliable statistics on mental health from past generations, we can look at the happiest countries to give us some insight. Most of the happiest countries share these characteristics, access to outdoor living, high-work life balance, high social support, high perceived freedom, a government they can trust, and a comfortable standard of living. It seems that these countries haven’t moved too far from the culture of their ancestors.
In Latinx culture, we believe in putting the family system first, often living intergenerationally. We celebrate “personalismo” and “confianza” often inviting many others into the fold of our comunidad. And although resilience is nuanced, we value our capacity to endure and overcome challenges. We celebrate that as a people we are hearty, strong and capable. Let’s not forget all the yummy food that we have created, and the parties we throw to gather and eat together. To be sure, we always have things we can work on within our culture like removing some of the stigma around mental health, but our own culture promotes well-being when we lean into it.
As we navigate this post-pandemic world and “mental health crisis,” what if instead of spending money on bulletproof classrooms or banning books in libraries, we used the funds to create safe spaces for community healing? What if we created wellness spaces that respect and care for ALL people’s needs including food, movement, and connection with a culturally sensitive lens?
Although I was incredibly blessed to have lots of love within my family unit, I know families can be the source of trauma. However, healing doesn’t have to happen within a family unit or even the therapy room, it can happen wherever love and connection thrive. This is certainly not a new idea. Researchers and psychologists have been saying this for decades. And yet as a nation and a state, we have failed to do anything that is actually moving the needle forward.
In our relentless pursuit of progress, we have distanced ourselves from the wisdom of our ancestors. Mental health is not a solitary pursuit confined to the recesses of our therapy sofas or the posts on social media. It is intricately intertwined within our community and our cultures. By embracing our ancestral wisdom and recognizing the holistic nature of mental health, we can forge a path towards healing and resilience.
Let us prioritize the establishment of support systems that extend beyond the confines of therapy, where love, connection, and community are valued, nurtured and expected. In doing so, we can begin to address the mental health crisis with compassion, understanding, and the transformative power of human connection.
We don’t have to be mental health experts to begin this work– it may simply begin with an invitation to grab some cafecito and allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to be share while inviting others to do the same.