I’m not the only Latinx person who missed the signs of my depression because of stigma.
In this op-ed, Christian Becerra explains why Latinx young people need better mental health education and support.
I was a freshman in high school when I had a teacher pull me aside from class to ask if I was doing ok. I told her I was just tired, which wasn’t so much a lie as it was the best way I could describe how I was feeling at the time. I had no better words for what I was experiencing. It never crossed my mind that I could be depressed.
When I was 15, I was officially diagnosed with depression. For me, the symptoms came gradually and then all at once. I became extremely restless. I could no longer sit through an exciting movie, let alone a long lecture at school. I didn’t know why, but getting out of bed each morning became an almost impossible task. Food lost its taste. Life lost its color.
I know I’m not alone in being diagnosed with depression as a teen — in fact, the number of young people with the same diagnosis has been increasing over the years. But as a young Latinx person, I’m also not alone in misinterpreting the symptoms of depression — and that’s a problem.
A new report by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) found that almost half of all U.S. Latinx girls in high school in 2017 felt so sad or hopeless they couldn’t participate in some activities. This is a rate that outpaces the 31.5% of general high school students who encountered similar feelings of sadness or hopelessness. When the students in the study expressed a desire for help, they reported that they were often shrugged off, or called “crazy.” The same study referenced the lack of research and resources extended to Latinx youth during a time in which our community is being targeted by the most influential powers in America.
But Latinx girls deserve better than this.
We need to do a better job of educating our Latinx youth. It angers me that so many of us grow up lacking the proper tools to dictate our pain. I found the answer for what I was experiencing on Google, and when I spotted my symptoms on the screen, I felt a mix of relief and shame in being able to recognize it for what it was. Relief in knowing I was not the only one going through this experience, and shame for what I felt like I had allowed myself to become.
I initially turned to my mom whose solution was to gloss over the pain. She encouraged me to strengthen my relationship with God, and offered me a selection of protein shakes and multivitamin supplements. A little more time on the treadmill would do the trick, she thought. She’s not wrong that exercise can help with mental health, and I know she was coming from a place of love, but what she offered wasn’t enough. I’m sure if she had more knowledge of mental health treatment, she could have helped me more in helping me address my mental health. But that was not the case for us, nor is it the case for many Latinx folks in America.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Latinx people are less likely to seek mental health treatment, despite being just as susceptible to mental illness as the general population. One reason for this, according to NAMI, is because we don’t talk much about mental health, which tends to perpetuate the stigma often present in Latinx communities. As a result, many Latinx people, NAMI notes, don’t know what the signs and symptoms of mental illness are, or how to seek help.
Eventually, I did seek treatment, and it would slowly but surely turn my life around for the better. Before I realized how depression could manifest and how it could be treated, I thought my life as I knew it was over. I had imagined something different for myself, and my diagnosis felt like it was taking all those hopes away. Now, thanks to the proper treatment and education, I know there is still so much life to live. Do not let your depression fool you into thinking your life is over before it has even begun — especially if you are Latinx like me and are not given the proper tools to prepare yourself.
At the end of the day, I know I’m not the only one who has been touched by depression. I just hope that my choice to speak out about it will encourage others to do the same so that we can collectively move towards a better understanding of mental health by diminishing the stigma and creating a brighter and more hopeful future for generations to come.