During the holiday season, so many of us feel the pressure to make the end of the year the happiest, most memorable time possible. Even if this year has been our worst, there always exists this magical glimmer of hope during the month of December that even if things started on the wrong foot, they won’t have to end that way. Although this feeling of hope is a great motivator in turning a new leaf and churning out smiles, women facing depression, anxiety Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, or any other emotional and mental health battles during the holidays know that putting that happy-go-lucky tailspin on a hard year is not always so easy.
One in five Latinos in the U.S. are facing mental health concerns, and only 10 percent of Latinos reach out to a specialist regarding them. Moreover, Latinas in the U.S. are more likely than other groups to suffer from depression and related issues. Latinas also have the highest suicide rates in the states. Still seen as taboo among many communities of color, mental health counseling, coping techniques, therapy, or even prescribed medication can be interpreted as weakness, laziness, selfishness, or even craziness by others, which makes it harder to manage symptoms. Even fewer women and Latinas seek assistance, while some are still fighting the negative stigma of being perceived as loca, but also moody, childish, and babyish for even sharing their experiences with close friends and family of Latino descent.
I know from experience that struggling with mental health can feel as if it’s a secret or a burden you must hide to spare family and friends worry or concern. There is a pressure to live up to cultural expectations and fit gross caricatures of Latin joy. You want to salvage your own not-so-good day, just so that it might be good for someone else. Seasonal and holiday depression rear their heads at the same that women are feeling the pressure to partake in December traditions. The family can make the struggle even greater forcing us to put on a good face and pretend like nothing is wrong.
HipLatina spoke to women about their own experiences grappling with mental health during the holidays, the obstacles they face and traditions at stake, how they explain what they’re going through to loved ones, and their techniques for staying grounded.
Brandie Carlos, 30, Mexican-American
“Depression is something I’ve experienced since I was 12 years old, I’m now 30 so I have spent more than half of my life navigating depression. I share my feelings with people that have earned my trust and I’ve learned through experience that not everyone is going to get it. Knowing how to distinguish between people’s roles has supported me in not taking things so personally.
I don’t get mad at the sun when it comes up every morning, instead, I learn to wear sunglasses or sunscreen but I don’t get mad at it for doing exactly what the sun does. So I’ve learned to accept people for who they are while putting into practice appropriate boundaries based on my relationships with that individual.
This is my first holiday season with a therapist that I feel a connection with, seeing her weekly has made a world of a difference. At this point, I know that depression is part of my life and creating a coping plan helps me navigate those days. I’ve also increased my appointments so instead of going biweekly I’m going on a weekly basis during the holidays.
Being around family during the holidays can end up in fights or feeling really drained. I make sure to get enough sleep and I don’t show up hungry to a get-together. I also give myself a time frame, something like ok I will only be there for 2 hours. That way I know when my time with them will end, this helps me mentally prepare so that I’m not looking at my watch the entire time. I’ve also learned to remove myself if arguments arise especially if alcohol is involved. Another thing that has helped is having conversations with people ahead of time and making agreements to not bring up certain topics to keep the peace.
One decision my family made as a whole was to order our food from a restaurant instead of cooking. This was a hard one to get everyone on board since cooking together is such a huge part of Latinx culture. In previous years we would all try and cook in the kitchen, it always ended up in arguments or tears. Since we started ordering food we actually shifted the energy from cooking to actually focusing our time on being present together.”
Mandie Nuanes, 29, Mexican
“In terms of explaining my depression to my family, yes, it’s hard to talk to them about it. I’ve heard before that “Mexicans don’t go to counseling” so, yes, there is definitely a stigma surrounding Latinos’ mental health. I also think that part of the reason why it’s hard to present this topic to my family is that I feel as if in some way I am disappointing them. I don’t want them to think of me as weak. It’s possible that in the Mexican community, visiting a psychiatrist is associated with weakness. We have a history of being strong and overcoming so much adversity, and often, overcoming adversity was done by looking inward for support. Visiting a psychiatrist could be seen as looking outward for support.
Through the holidays, it can get rough. One thing that makes it rough is that I don’t eat red meat. My family makes tamales every year for Christmas, I see the point in keeping the tradition alive. However, for me, it just means having to deal with my entire family crammed into one kitchen, making me more susceptible to being asked, in hushed tones, ‘have you talked to your ex?’ or ‘where’s your boyfriend?’ I also have to prepare for an entire night of people trying to force me to eat meat and never-ending jokes about how I am not Mexican because I don’t eat tamales. In fact, this year one of my cousins, after shredding a beef roast with his hands, ran his finger under my nose and across my top lips. I almost threw up.
I definitely think that maintaining my normal interrupts festivities. If my family gathers, throughout the night I will quietly slip out of the room and go to my room where I take a few moments to do some breathing exercises. Long nights through the holidays usually results in me taking more breaks throughout the night.
However, I don’t think that my mental health maintenance spoils the holidays for anyone else. I think my mom and my sister are probably the most aware of how I feel around holidays, and they tend to be very understanding. This year I have definitely had my share of upsets, but for the most part, I deal with my anxiety by maintaining my normal. For example, for Christmas Eve my family has a potluck, and I am in charge of the salads. I actually get excited thinking and planning out new salads for the night. Me bringing the salads is sort of a tradition now that my whole family accepts.
I remind myself that I am better than anxiety and depression. I have tools that I can use to not let myself go to such a dark place again. And lastly, and I think the most helpful thing is reaching out to my circle of amazing girlfriends. They are always accepting of me, and they keep me grounded.”
Stephanie Rodriguez, 28, Dominican
“With the stigma surrounding mental health in Latino families, that topic is 100 percent a black cloud. In my family, people feel like they will be judged, or that seeing a therapist will follow you for the rest of your life. During the holidays, people like to bring up certain discussions that are not necessarily appropriate, especially for those dealing with mental health issues, like someone with anxiety being asked personal questions in front of everyone.
Be graceful and don’t let them see you cry. A lot of it is facing things head-on, letting family members know that times have changed and so have expectations. I think oftentimes Latinos like to paint a perfect picture. Do not let their stigmas change your mind or make you feel bad for speaking up. Sometimes one of the best ways we can signal change is by having a conversation. We as Latinas get stuck on certain things, like marriage, kids, wifely duty, but educating on mental health is important.”