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Therapy Is Helping Me Break My Latinx Family’s Stigma of Mental Health Care

Therapy Is Helping Me Break My Latinx Family’s Stigma of Mental Health Care

Therapy has taught me to no longer keep quiet about my mental health. Millennial and Gen-Z Latinx folks must combat the stigma against therapy in our culture.

TW/CW: this essay contains mentions of COVID-19 related death and grief. 

By Miryam R. Pinto 

My mother passed away from COVID complications in late March. Not only did I lose a mother, but I also lost my best friend and the person I confided in the most. Jokingly, I always referred to her as my therapist, but in reality, I refused to seek professional help for my mental health. Mental health care has a history of being stigmatized in the Latinx community, specifically in households with traditional, religious upbringings. God and family come first, and any ongoing problems should be left in the hands of faith or stay within the family. The thought of receiving any mental health help is quickly deemed as a “waste of time,” as my dad and his family would say. Latinx people often also project an ableist misconception when it comes to having therapy.  “Eso no es para nosotros en la familia” (“That’s not for us in the family”) is what I often heard from my community.

Growing up, I had some mixed feelings about mental health care for myself. Though my mom was always a mental health advocate and pushed me to seek counseling in college after going through years of body dysphoria and social anxiety, the influence of the older generation in my family made me self-conscious about “oversharing” my feelings. Ultimately, it left me unable to cope. From my perspective, it seemed more like growing pains that I was experiencing, so I chose to rely on my mother, who helped me build better behaviors to the best of her abilities. However, when I lost her, it felt like I lost myself too.

Dealing with grief was far more painful than I had ever imagined. What made it even more painful was dealing with my grief and sadness in isolation. Friends and family could only be there for me through a phone or FaceTime call. Despite their best attempts to check up on me, I had difficulty putting into words what I felt. I didn’t want them to worry for me, but I also wanted to express how broken I was feeling. I was drowning, and I slowly realized that I was falling into a more profound depression each day with my bottled up emotions. It wasn’t until one of my coworkers, a mental health care professional, asked: “Have you considered therapy?”

Of course, the idea did not cross my mind, but I decided to give it a shot after multiple conversations. The journey to finding the right therapist and care was not an easy one. I went through at least three therapists and many frustrating sessions. They left me flustered and felt like a waste, as they came with copayment expenses but I wasn’t really getting anything out of the sessions. For a while, I thought my father did have a point and that it was all a waste of money, and maybe online teletherapy was the main reason it wasn’t working out for me. After all, I was talking to a stranger behind a screen. However, I saw what my bottled-up emotions were doing to me, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Along with the adverse effects of being in complete isolation due to COVID, I decided to continue my search.

When I connected with my current therapist, I found myself instantly clicking with him because he offered me a safe space to be in my true form without feeling guilty which is why I quickly signed up for my next session. As time progressed, I started to look forward to each 10am Saturday appointment. 

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Through our sessions, psychotherapy helped me deal with my grief and analyze the emotional difficulties I hadn’t perceived as rooted in my cultural upbringing. It gave me a safe and affirming space to talk about my ongoing anxieties and outlook on interpersonal relationships with the people in my circle. The most significant problem I faced was my resistance to crying. In Latinx culture, crying is perceived as a sign of weakness or as defiance. I often found myself holding back my tears or apologizing if I ever cried in front of anyone. Through therapy, I was able to identify why I resisted these emotional responses. Although my mother always reassured me that crying was okay, I never once saw my father or grandparents cry. Even now, as my grandmother deals with her grief over losing her only daughter and husband within a year, she tells me she refrains from crying as much because she needs to stay strong for all of us. 

Psychotherapy has also helped me break the stigma of unvalidated emotions, but most importantly, to no longer keep quiet about my mental health. Although the journey to mental health care was not an easy one, I don’t regret it. As a first-generation family member who sought out therapy, every session leaves me feeling emotionally liberated. My anger or sadness feels validated in the 60-minute session I have with my therapist, and I’m reassured that I should not feel bad for having my feelings and experiences with them. Had I not found the right care, I would still be carrying all this emotional baggage into my career, friendships, and relationships with my family. I’d still be in the vicious cycle of self-sabotage and internalizing my emotions. I have slowly picked myself up and learned how to continue with my life without putting my grief and feelings to the side in order to “stay strong.” Therapy has helped me turn my life around and even rediscover my passion for writing. It has also helped me dismantle the negative cognitive-emotion factors we keep seeing and believing in Latinx culture. 

Millennial and Gen-Z Latinx people must continue breaking this stigma to avoid this vicious cycle for future generations. Though it may take some time for families to understand, it is also essential for them to learn not to have a negative association with therapy and recognize the reality of mental health care. Though my grandmother has a different perspective of therapy and refers to my therapist as “my Saturday friend,” it’s still a form of breaking an old stigma from the family. She recognizes that I am getting help and is slowly asking me how the conversations are going on Saturday mornings. Even better, I have noticed that she is gradually opening up to me with honesty about the moments when she doesn’t feel her best. For me, that’s a small victory in the endeavor to normalize mental health care and emotional openness in my family. 

Miryam (she/her) is a Latinx middle school educator and writer based in New York City who has been published previously in the New York Daily News and Latinitas. When not teaching or writing, she enjoys cooking and baking and looking after her 3 dogs and cat. Find her on Twitter @WhatMiryamSays

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