Mental Health And The Latino Culture


The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes mental health as not just how an individual emotionally reacts to specific situations but in addition, it’s a medical condition that causes changes in how we think and in our mood. These changes can go undiagnosed and untreated, often leading to a disruption in our daily life, in which many feel like it’s hard to relate to others.

            “Common mental health disorders among Latinos are generalized anxiety disorder , major depression, posttraummatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism. About one in five Latinos currently suffers from a mental health condition” -NAMI.

Stigma is a complex phenomenon related to loss of status and disrupted identity. It is associated with labeling, negative stereotypes in the media and community, and lack of knowledge and awareness of mental illness.


The Hispanic/ Latino culture, like many other groups, believe in the stigma that deeply roots the troubles of mental health. Latinos fear being labeled as Loco (crazy) because it’s seen as a shame and/or disappointment, therefore many won’t seek treatment. Specially, since Latino families tend to be private and keep their family troubles in the home and out of public knowledge for sakes of family name.

            A journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, applied the “dominance behavioral system” as well as other research data concludes that “a deflated sense of power or disappointment in social standing was associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety.”

The Latino beliefs suggests as causes, from suerte (luck), susto (soul or spirit loss resulting from a traumatic event), mal de ojo (the evil eye), or caida de la mollera (fallen fontanel). According to these are all misperceptions of poor mental health.

In addition, many will refer to their symptoms as nervios, although they see it as “transitory” as a result from traumatic experiences or trouble adjusting to life changes. This can be related to having symptoms of restlessness, constant worrying, panic, loss of sleep and appetite. Although, “nervios” which derives from the word “worry” has been a term that has been used to describe a variety of symptoms that would otherwise point to a different diagnosis. Therefore, there’s possibility of misdiagnosing as anxiety when it’s not. This demonstrates the language barrier and the need for more culturally relevant mental health care.

It’s also possible that mental health is misdiagnosed as being tired, lazy or physical illness. Not to mention the possibility of confusing spiritual experiences as psychosis.

There’s plenty of different factors that could be causes for poor mental health in a migrant’s experience (as they acculturate or even after years of being in a new country) such as; language, social, professional, family dynamic, economic and immigration status. Not to mention any other stressors from everyday life that come with responsibility such as work or school.

            “Only 20 percent of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder will talk to their doctor, and only 10 percent contact a mental health specialist” – NAMI

Labeling or diagnosing has its disadvantages although it’s outweighed by the possible advantages. With a diagnosis from a medical professional it’s easier for one to be understood from a scientific mindset and be prescribed/suggested the appropriate medication and therapy treatment plans.

Although, Latinos don’t turn to talk therapy or medication, often seeing it as ineffective and shameful. Many will try the culture’s more private methods of healing instead such as; help from curanderos or clergy prior to seeking medical care.


Different therapies are effective for different illnesses but Cognitive-Behaviorism seems to be widely used and proves effective for treating many disorders and dealing with day to day life. Albert Ellis argued that a person’s belief system will influence their behavior. Cognitive-Behaviorism searches ways to recognize the irrational beliefs, make them less intense or eliminated, to alter feelings and behavior.

In conclusion, if you or someone you know may be dealing with symptoms of poor mental health, I suggest everyone to talk to a trustworthy friend that will listen. Talking to someone isn’t always easy, remember to be sympathetic and most importantly a good listener. Check up on your loved ones, simply ask how are you feeling? Do you want to talk about anything that’s bothering you?

            I also recommend you look at, “Twenty-Five Ways to Untwist Your Thinking” from the work of Dr. Davis Burns in his book “When Panic Attacks” as a way to help you, or others have a more rational, healthy way of thinking. There’s plenty of other self-help books or even podcasts that can help you or others deal with symptoms of poor mental health. For the Latino family, National Mental Health Alliance also features Compartiendo Esperanza is a bilingual 90-minute presentation that can help increase mental health awareness in Latino communities.

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