Mental Health Struggles within the Latinx Community

By Alex Ortega and Cynthia Morales

Esquipulas Santoyo, a Latinx Citizen who was born in Mexico and came to the US at the age of four, reflects on what it has been like to be from a Hispanic household and to deal with his mental health issues through therapy.

“I could tell them I’m a little depressed. I just want some space and every single time when I want that, they think I’m crazy. They think I’m angry, they think I’m mad or just plain nervous,” said Santoyo, “you know, like, that doesn’t really help at all. But I’ve never really heard any good things about it from my family.”

Esquipulas is not the only one with an experience like this. Everyone is susceptible to the challenges of mental health regardless of their background. However, the negative stigma associated with mental health treatment pushes many people away from seeking treatment and puts them at risk for deteriorating their mental health. 

According to a study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 33% of Latino adults with mental illnesses receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 43%.

Chicago Demographics

A report conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Metropolitan Family services, determined which communities in Chicago had the largest number of Hispanics/Latinos. They concluded that Little Village came in second with a population of 62,928. 

Why this Matters

This is important to note because it demonstrates that the Latinx community is growing both in the suburbs and in the city. However, with this growth there is evidence that suggests that education, annual income, access to public services, affordable healthcare, etc. is not able to keep up with the growth and needs that come along with it.

Access to these services is important for everyone but specifically for Latinx individuals who suffer from mental health because of the stigma that comes from it.

“They have this stereotype that if you seek out mental health services you are then “crazy,” or that if one is depressed for example they can just get over it,” said Luis Salas, a case manager at the UIC Counseling Center.

This aligns with what David Cruz, a 23 year old Latinx citizen dealing with the issue, said when he was asked about his own experience with Latinos in regards to mental health. 

“They think that … sometimes people are overreacting or they do or they say what they have (e.g. diagnosis) just to get attention,” he said. 

Despite this stigma within the Latinx community, a study by Arturo Carrillo found that 80% of the community wants professional help but don’t know who to turn to or where to go. There are not enough resources to keep up with the growing Latinx population and rather than the city looking for ways to help them, the city has closed off 6 of the 12 mental health clinics in Chicago.  

Little Village in Chicago/Wikimedia.commons

Reasons why people don’t reach out

One of the reasons why people don’t reach out for treatment is due to the lack of insurance. 

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report published in 2017, 19% of people identifying as Hispanic had no form of health insurance.

Salas believes that the Latinx community is not placing enough importance towards mental health because he has had students reach out to him for help, but because they were under their parents insurance they were unable to use it because their parents did not believe in mental health treatment.

Salas continued to express that parents of the Latinx community tend to look at counseling as an inferior form of treatment or simply prefer to address the issues with their own religious beliefs. 

“There’s also the notion of people maybe going to a priest, or curandero, rather than a mental health professional or simply turning to religion,” said Salas. 

Another factor that was found throughout these interviews was male masculinity, or as it is known in Latinx communities, machismo. It was cited as a component that restricts people from seeking help.

With machismo, there is a sense of masculine pride and this could downplay mental health issues. They (parents) could say stuff like “estas bien, no tienes nada, se te va pasar, just suck it up” which could then be a factor in why people aren’t seeking mental health services,” Salas said. 

“It’s pretty bad because you’re not allowed to show emotion. You always have to hold back your tears and all the sadness and […] you can’t really express yourself,” said Cruz, when discussing his own experience with machismo within his household.

Santoyo similarly expressed that his own machismo would prevent him from seeking help until it was too big to ignore.

“I didn’t want to share my thoughts with anybody else. But things hit the fan, and I kind of really needed help. So I had to seek it out.” 

What’s being done to combat the stigma in Chicago

Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood is known for its large Mexican-American population. These are mental health facilities that are located near Little Village.

How you can help

Check on your friends and family to make sure their mental health is stable. Support their beliefs but also motivate them to seek help. Oftentimes, they just want someone to help them make the first step.

 “If it wasn’t for my girlfriend who said, ‘No, just go out and seek help’ because she had done it, then I would have never done it myself. You just need somebody to do it first. And that’s what happened in my case,” said Santoyo.

Listed below are some resources that you can reach out to it if you yourself or a loved one are experiencing these issues and are unable to talk with your family about this topic. 

Due to COVID-19, many clinics and community organizations have transitioned online but continue to take calls in order to assist those in need since social isolation contributes to mental health problems. 

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