At Joon Care, we believe that being culturally aware and sensitive is an essential part of providing high-quality mental health care. For Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month we wanted to share the perspectives of our clinicians with great expertise in serving the Latinx population. Latinx cultures and backgrounds are diverse and varied, accounting for almost 20% of the U.S. population. Unfortunately, Latinx individuals are often overrepresented in underserved and vulnerable groups, meaning that gaining access to health and wellness resources can be challenging. There is a shortage of mental health professionals who are culturally sensitive and fluent in a way to appropriately provide wellness services.
Here we highlight three of our therapists—Christy, Daniela and Stephanie—and their views and experiences around mental health in the Latinx community.
Stephanie: Firstly, can we take a moment to acknowledge how difficult it can be to reach out for help for something personal like mental health? Thank you for even considering therapy and taking the time to seek out a resource like Joon Care. It can be intimidating, confusing, and even frustrating. Let me be honest. In the Latinx/Hispanic communities, there are many hurdles and valid feelings of mistrust in this field. I can't blame you for being hesitant to reach out for help. But I would like to say; therapy can help improve your symptoms. You can learn to face your problems healthily. You can show those around you how strong you are. You don't have to hide from your problems anymore. So if you need one more sign if this is the right time to start therapy, I think this is it.
Christy: I would like them to know that we as a company are cross-culturally informed. Meaning, we are open, constantly learning about and accepting of a person's cultural needs during counseling. While I understand some older generational beliefs about mental illness and wellness and therapy, I am also sensitive to the individual beliefs of my client. I then hope to help them learn ways to communicate their struggles to a generation that sometimes has differing opinions and beliefs. I get it, living in a multi-generational home myself, I totally understand this challenge.
Daniela: I would like them to know that therapy helps us understand who we are as individuals. That it is ok to reach out for help, and that therapy provides a safe place for us to process. Therapy has become more normalized in our society today as mental health awareness grows in the country as more cultures are adapting to the much-needed help from mental health professionals.
Stephanie: The most significant barriers to mental health wellness in the Hispanic/Latinx communities include lack of access and stigma. That could mean they can't afford a therapist in their area. Maybe the provider doesn't understand or speak Spanish. Or there is a lack of cultural competence. This means the therapy provider doesn't understand or know-how culture influences a person's interpretation. For instance, if a client says to me they feel "nervios," they would describe physical ailments. After spending years working in these communities, I know someone in the Latinx would first recognize physical pain vs a mental illness like depression. So whenever I hear the word, this could be a sign of depression. However, some providers, even doctors, would misdiagnose this symptom as fatigue or stomachaches.
As for stigma, it's not that people in these communities dismiss mental health altogether. They understand that depression and anxiety exist. They just have assumptions on how to overcome these issues. When you have a whole community that was denied access from the medical and mental health field for many generations, someone might instead seek solace in prayer, helping around the house, focusing on school or work. When you are "too busy" with work or chores, you are "too busy" to feel depressed or anxious.
If you are "too busy" for mental illness, why would you take the chance to speak with someone outside their family or community for help?
Christy: I always ask a client what understanding they have of mental health and wellness. Then I ask if their knowledge and understanding aligns with their caregivers. Sometimes that alone is enough for me to decide I need to convince the caregivers that therapy is important. Growing up, I was often told, "Just give it time, it will go away." Sometimes the feelings did go away, but they always seemed to find their way back. I was lucky enough to have a caring counselor in school who took the time to set goals with me and help me learn coping skills that would help me achieve my goals. She knew my family did not have the money for therapy, and she decided to help me. I will always remember her.
Daniela: Growing up in a Hispanic home while living in an American society was a confusing yet humbling experience. I learned that the culture and ways we are raised has a deep impact on our exploration of who we are as individuals. I feel that I can help those struggling with their identity because I struggled too. My experience is mine and we need to value each individual experience so we can guide and support clients as they self-explore. The goal is to help them find empowerment in who they are. I realize that living in both cultures can be confusing and I stress the importance of empathizing with others' cultural norms and differences.
Christy: If you truly get to know a person and what they feel makes them whole then you learn a great deal about what they feel their needs are. If you know their needs, from their perspective, then you're on the right track to helping them fulfill those goals in therapy. If you don't take the time to truly get to know them and you're giving them skills to try, or books to read, they have no buy-in because it is not based on their individual cultural needs. Therapy is not a "one size fits most."
Stephanie: I'm not sure how a therapist can ignore culture and identity. These facets do not define us, but they do offer some understanding on how a person behaves or responds to treatment. This shows the client the therapist not only hears them, but they are seen.
Daniela: Culture comes in many different forms. It influences individuals. In the therapeutic process, a therapist who identifies with the same culture may better understand nuanced behaviors or thought processes, allowing them to better assist in your self-exploration.
Christy: The most wonderful thing about the Latinx community is the close-nit family values we have. I've learned so much about my clients just getting to know the family and the dynamics within the home. When looking at the whole person, you're often treating some component of the family unit at some point in therapy. It just happens when we are so close to our family.
Stephanie: I want to emphasize that even though we are using Latinx and Hispanic as umbrella terms, I know there is great diversity in and around these communities. It's an exciting time for individuals of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American and South American, Indigenous, Black, Afro-Latin, descent because they are reclaiming their identity. We are claiming our identity. This is why words like Latinx, Latine, and the myriad of words created right now are to better explain the tapestry and subcategories and labels for these communities.