Several Stony Brook groups came together to discuss mental health in the Latinx community on Wednesday, Nov. 7 in the Student Activities Center.
The Peer Mental Health Alliance (PMHA) along with the Latin American and Caribbean studies department, Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates (LIISA), the Latin American Student Organization and the beta chapter of the Phi Iota Alpha fraternity hosted an event to discuss stigma and other issues that prevent those in the Latinx community from seeking out mental health care.
“Hispanic families, they don’t talk a lot about mental health,” Allilsa Fernandez, senior psychology major and founder of PMHA, said. “Some of the research shows that when it comes to the Hispanic community there is a cultural stigma passed down from generation to generation… families have been told to ‘suck it up’, ‘take a walk.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re sick, keep on working, it doesn’t matter if you’re depressed, keep on working, it doesn’t matter if someone died, keep on working, or else.’”
Anne Montijo, a Latina and licensed clinical social worker, echoed Fernandez’s concerns, relating it back to her own life experiences. Montijo quoted singer Michelle Williams, saying, “In our community, therapy’s for white folks.”
Montigo also stressed the importance of increasing the number of Latinx mental health professionals working in the field. “We need to reach [minority] communities,” she said. “We need students to be bilingual.” She noted that many Latin American patients only speak their primary language, and they need therapists who can understand them.
Rosa Cruz, a Latina with a master’s degree in social work, outlined her presentation in Spanish with a translator. She argued that Latinx people need more information about maintaining mental health, because they don’t understand its necessity or benefits.
“There is necessity of bilingual, bicultural psychology professionals to understand Latino people, you know? That kind of person, sometimes they don’t have it,” Cruz said.
Fernandez highlighted that this disinterest in mental health services goes deeper than lackof care-seeking or education, noting that statistics show that Latinx licensed social workers only make up 5 percent of the social worker population.
A paper published by George Washington University in October 2016 indicates that Latinos actually made up 11 percent of the U.S. social worker population, though they are still underrepresented. Hispanics accounted for 18 percent of the U.S. population in 2016, the second largest racial group or ethnic group behind whites, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Isn’t it ironic that the people most in need of representation are the same people that frown upon the profession?” an audience member asked Cruz.
“The professionals are formed for an American system. How can they understand Latin people?” she responded. “They can’t. The system needs reformation to train and inform more mental health professionals so these people can understand [the Latin] community. Can you imagine how a non-English speaking Latin person feels speaking face-to-face with a therapist that cannot understand them? [The therapist] doesn’t know their culture, doesn’t speak their language, and doesn’t know their needs.”
Cruz continued, emphasizing that the United States healthcare system needs more bilingual and bicultural therapists who can understand their patient’s language and culture. Without this understanding, it is even more difficult for Latinos to find valuable help in America’s mental healthcare system.
“I’m really happy that we have events like this going on on campus,” Evelyn Lopez Rodriguez, a sophomore political science major, said. “Something like mental health is such an issue that has really bad stigma in our community, and unfortunately it’s not commented on a lot.”
Ornella Riquelme, vice president of LIISA and senior interdisciplinary biology major, also commented on the lack of communication about mental health in Latin American communities.
“I enjoyed the event because it talked about something the Latinx community keeps quiet about,” Riquelme said. “Mental health in the Latinx community is multifaceted and even though the reunion was three hours long, this could be longer by touching other topics such as how immigration status affects mental health, [and] how the political environment can affect it too.”