In this editorial, Christian Becerra explains why Latinx youth need better education and support in mental health.
I was a freshman in high school when I had a teacher pulling me to the side of class to ask if I was doing well. I told her I was just tired, which was not a lie, as it was the best way to describe how I was feeling back then. I had no better words for what I was experiencing. It never crossed my mind that I might be depressed.
When I was 15, I was officially diagnosed with depression. For me, the symptoms appeared gradually and then at once. I was extremely restless. I could no longer watch an exciting movie, let alone a long talk at school. I did not know why, but getting out of bed every morning was an almost impossible task. The food lost its taste. Life has lost its color.
I know I'm not alone when I'm diagnosed with depression as a teenager – in fact, the number of young people with the same diagnosis has been increasing over the years. But as a young Latina, I'm not alone in misinterpreting the symptoms of depression – and that's a problem.
A new report from the National Women's Law Law Center (NWLC) found that nearly half of all Latin American high school girls in 2017 felt so sad or hopeless that they could not participate in some activities. This is a rate that exceeds 31.5% of high school students who found similar feelings of sadness or hopelessness. When students in the study expressed their desire for help, they reported that they were often ignored, or called "crazy." The same study referred to the lack of research and resources extended to Latinx youth during a time when our community is being targeted by the most influential powers in America.
But the girls at Latinx deserve better than that.
We need to do a better job of educating our Latinx youth. It angers me that many of us grow up without the right tools to dictate our pain. I found the answer to what I was experiencing on Google, and when I saw my symptoms on the screen, I felt a mixture of relief and shame in being able to recognize it for what it was. Relief in knowing that I was not the only one to go through this experience, and shame for what I felt I had allowed myself to become.
I initially turned to my mother whose solution was to cover up the pain. She encouraged me to strengthen my relationship with God and offered me a selection of protein shakes and vitamin supplements. A little more time on the treadmill would do the trick, she thought. She is not wrong that exercise can help with mental health, and I know she was coming from a place of love, but what she offered was not enough. I'm sure that if she had more knowledge about mental health treatment, she might have helped me more to help me deal with my mental health. But that was not the case for us, nor is it the case of many Latinx people in the United States.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illnesses (NAMI), Latinx people are less likely to seek mental health treatment, although they are as susceptible to mental illness as the general population. One reason for this, according to NAMI, is that we do not talk much about mental health, which tends to perpetuate the stigma frequently present in Latino communities. As a result, many Latinx people, NAMI notes, do not know what the signs and symptoms of mental illness are or how to seek help.