“Échale ganas” is the advice Alejandro Duran’s parents gave him in high school when managing classes, soccer and college prep programs overwhelmed him enough that he approached them to discuss his feelings.
“They kind of just overlooked it, so I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I’m not going to tell my parents that I’m falling behind,’” Duran said. “Sometimes, when I’m stressed, I vent to my little brother. I share a little bit with him, but I try not to overshare because he’s younger than me and I try to set an example.”
Alejandro Duran, 20, lives in East LA and is grateful for his brother, who he confides in. Photo credit: Marcos Franco.
Don’t tough it out alone
Now at the age of 20 and more mindful of stress management, Duran told CALÓ NEWS that he realizes having such discussions with family members isn’t always easy but important to do. The “tough it out” approach is a traditionally common response to adversity within the Latino community, a coping mechanism of sorts.
The cultural “machismo” stereotype is upheld in many Latino households, forming a stigma around therapy and seeking help, which is often associated with weakness. When this practice is passed from one generation to the next, it becomes a difficult cycle to break. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 33% of Latinos suffering from a mental illness seek treatment annually, compared to the U.S. average of 43%.
Latinos account for 69.4% of total enrollees, Cal State LA’s Counseling and Psychological Services office provides in-person therapy to students. Photo credit: Marcos Franco.
Having difficult conversations pays off
Gaithri Fernando is a psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, who recognizes how difficult having these conversations can be. “I think it’s really hard on teens who come from low-acculturated families to try to educate and tell their parents what’s going on because some of the parents’ stories, like, migrating to the United States or other struggles, compared to some of those stories of their children, might might think that their kids are exaggerating,” Fernando said. “I hear many parents say, ‘If only [my kids] knew what I went through,’ and they don’t want to disclose those personal stories because of the trauma and they don’t want to burden their children.”
The National Centers for Disease Control recognizes September as suicide prevention and awareness month, emphasizing the importance intimate and personal connections have on mental resilience. Last year, the organization reported 49,449 deaths by suicide, the highest number recorded in American history.
Hundreds of thousands of Latinos attempt suicide annually
The breakdown averaged one death every 11 minutes, a statistic that drove suicides up 36% percent since the start of the millennium. Data from the American Psychiatric Association shows that each year 243,000 Latinos in the U.S. attempt to take their own lives and that 17% of high school-age Latinos experience suicidal thoughts. The study also reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34.
Growing up in a traditional Mexican household, Bethany Peralta said that she feels that certain cultural stereotypes make it difficult to openly express her emotions and be optimistic at times. She believes the amount someone is willing to share is dependent on the listener’s approach and whether or not they try to force a response. The 20-year-old feels that by increasing mental health services and spreading awareness throughout the Latino community, younger generations are better understood by their parents.
“In high school, I was very [much] to myself. I didn’t want to talk about how I was feeling, so I kept a lot bottled up,” Peralta said. “It really affected me, but I learned to share my feelings with friends and school counselors and now I’m comfortable saying exactly what’s on my mind and what’s bothering me.”
Bethany Peralta, 20, Highland Park, Mexican-American. Photo credit: Marcos Franco.
Depression runs in families
Sadly, depression runs in Peralta’s family and she’s seen first-hand how easy it can be to turn to coping mechanisms like alcohol, a habit apparent in one-third of people suffering from the disease, according to WebMD.
With young people at such high risk, and hundreds of thousands of teens to account for, the LAUSD joined the statewide “Share Hope Together” campaign. The goal is to prompt conversations about mental health and provide students and staff with resources to better identify changes in behavior among peers and themselves. As teens and people in their early 20s are yet to fully develop mentally, they lack the cognitive ability that allows for rational decision making. From a developmental perspective, experts say that hormone imbalances and peer pressure can cause them to act more impulsively.
Boyle Heights resident Jeromy Martinez told CALÓ NEWS that he lost a friend to suicide last year while in high school and because of it he knows the importance of confiding in others. He believes that forming a strong bond with that person and checking in on them frequently offers them reassurance and could possibly change their worldview.
“Every time I come home, my mom asks how my day went and how I’m feeling and although I don’t always share everything that happened, just knowing that someone will listen to the small things matters,” Martinez said. “Basically, just ask them questions and listen.”
Jeromy Martinez, 19, lives in Boyle Heights and tries to check in on friends often. Photo credit: Marcos Franco.
The importance of face-to-face interaction and forming personal connections is something Fernando touched on when identifying patterns of self-isolation and loneliness.
“There’s been discussion about the epidemic of loneliness in our time, where connecting is done mostly through Tik Tok, Twitter and various social media apps,” Fernando said. “In my opinion, that’s a misnomer. That’s not social media; that’s anti-social media. We’re not actually looking at each other’s faces.”
In addition to any cultural barriers that might get in the way of therapy, there are other inequities that could prevent Latinos from seeking help. Legal status, language barriers and a lack of health insurance are all factors that come into play. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Latinos have the highest uninsured rates of any ethnic group in the country, with 18.3% of the population uninsured compared to 5.4% of Whites. While undocumented Latinos don’t qualify for Marketplace health coverage, they can buy private health insurance on their own outside of Covered California.
Read more stories about mental health in this link.