14 Latinx Mental Health Portrayals in TV and Film

"One Day at a Time", "Gentefied", "With Love" are some of the Latinx series that featured authentic mental health struggles

Mental Health latinx pop culture

Photos: Netflix/Amazon MGM

Latinx representation in film and television remains limited and so it’s rare to find nuanced and authentic portrayals though in recent years we’ve seen some progress. The 2024 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reported that of the 37 films that featured lead characters played by underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, 7.9 percent of them were Latinx. When it comes to television, there have been multiple recent cancellations of Latinx-centered or starring shows including, Not Dead Yet, This Fool, and Primo. The lack of representation of Latinxs is that much more apparent when we look at portrayals of mental health in television and film. During this Mental Health Awareness Month, we are highlighting Latinx mental health on screen, so when we couple that with the patterns we’ve seen in cancellations and lack of Latinx characters, it is apparent there is progress to be made for our stories to be told. While few and far between, the portrayals that are out there represent the complexities of mental health in our comunidad and provide a nuanced perspective on what mental health looks like. From On My Block to Encanto, read on to learn about 14 portrayals of Latinx mental health in television and film.

Penelope Alvarez – One Day at a Time

One Day at a Time is a beloved sitcom centering the the Cuban Alvarez family living in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Known for its multi-generational representation and Latina queer representation, the sitcom also addresses the stigma Penelope (Justina Machado) faces while she grapples with PTSD as a veteran coupled with the stress of being a single mother. The series showed her dealing with backlash from her mother Lidia (played by Rita Moreno) for taking anti-depressants and her experiences with group therapy. We saw her struggle with the stigma around talking about her mental health issues and finding support with her family and friends.

Ruby Martinez – On My Block 

In the season 1 finale, characters Ruby (Jason Genao) and Olivia (Ronni Hawk) are shot at Olivia’s quinceañera with Ruby being the only survivor. Ruby’s storyline in the second season centers his PTSD and survivor’s guilt following the shooting. We see him deal with his grief as he contemplates how that day could have been different while questioning himself, his faith, and the state of gang violence within his neighborhood. Following a triggering New Year’s party, Ruby comes to terms with his grief and experiences the support of his friends as he moves forward.

Betty Suarez – Ugly Betty

The iconic Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) is one the most prominent representations of Latinas on television. Not only is she first-generation but also the only Latina employee at a prestigious fashion Magazine and a caretaker within her family. As she takes on so many roles, we see her experience a lot of the stressors and pressures of being a first-gen Latina. From having to deal with lawyers for her father’s immigration status to dealing with the heavy workload from her job and sitting through the microaggressions from her co-workers, she is seen reaching a point of burnout early on in the show as she learns to handle it all.

Julio Lopez – This Fool

Mental health stigma is prevalent within the Latinx community and when it comes to men’s mental health, machismo and gender norms only exacerbate it. This Fool embodies that perfectly as Julio, a case manager at a gang rehabilitation nonprofit, is apprehensive about therapy even though he encounters and even recommends it through his line of work. Throughout the series, we see him navigate a codependent romantic relationship, the pressures of his job, and avoid therapy at all costs until he inevitably accepts he needs support. Like many, he navigates having no health insurance as he seeks therapy while doing what he can to get his mental health journey started. 

Jane Villanueva – Jane the Virgin

Throughout the series, we see Jane go through the motions of being a first time mother, dealing with first-gen pressure, and the actions of series’ antagonist, Sin Rostro. Soon after the birth of her son, Mateo, he is kidnapped by Sin Rostro leading to serious stress for Jane regarding the safety of her child. Later in the series, Sin Rostro’s escape from prison riddles Jane with fear and anxiety leading to her seeking mental health support. It is through therapy that she learns about EFT tapping to help cope with the anxiety she is experiencing, letting viewers know that there are helpful techniques out there to support our mental health and that therapy is not for “locos”.

Emma and Lynn – Vida 

The premise of Vida centers grief and loss as sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), lose their mother, and along with their community, slowly heal. It is through their mother’s death that they learn she was married to a woman, and with that take on everything their mother left behind in their childhood home in Boyle Heights. Emma attempts to cope by holding in her emotions after finding out her mother was queer after she was rejected by her when she was younger for also being queer. Lyn finds herself unsure of her place in the world, rekindling her romance with her now engaged, hometown love interest and overspending as her sister (and the eldest hija) handles their mother’s already existing debt and the threat of gentrification upon their family bar.

The Morales Family – Gentefied

In season two of the Netflix series Gentefied, The Morales family works toward healing their generational and family trauma all while grappling with the patriarch, Casimiro’s immigration status as he is facing deportation on top of the gentrification in their neighborhood threatening to take away their family restaurant. Primos Ana (Karrie Martin) and Erik (J.J. Soria) are seen pursuing their own dreams and starting their lives away from their families while experiencing the guilt of “abandoning” their family because of it. Father-son relationships address the machismo that prevents Latino men from expressing their feelings and the stress of facing deportation leads the family to experience collective stress while coming together to keep their family united.

Mirabel Madrigal/The Madrigal Family – Encanto

Disney’s Encanto centers the magical Madrigal family who, like many Latinx families, experience the generational trauma that is passed down from generation to generation. The family matriarch, Abuela Alma, withnesses the murder of her husband and was forced to flee her home, which lead her to become overly protective of her family. This manifests into her being strict and at times cruel, specifically toward Mirabel who is the only one lacking powers in her family. In the midst of that, we also see the family’s shunning of Bruno who carries guilt for his powers, Isabela handling the pressures of meeting her family’s expectations, and Luisa’s overwhelming stress as the strong, elder daughter.

Aza Holmes – Turtles All the Way Down

Based on the John Green novel, Turtles All the Way Down follows Aza Holmes as she struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder while contemplating a potential love interest and what her future could look like. Throughout the film, we hear her inner dialogue as she examines a wound on her finger, running through the worst-case scenarios possible as she breaks down her fear of germs. As the film progresses we see how her experience with OCD manifests in her dynamics with her crush from being afraid to kiss him and then running through thoughts of disease when she finally does kiss him. 

Nina Rosario – In the Heights 

Nina Rosario finds herself grappling with impostor syndrome after dropping out of Stanford University. As she returns home, she is met with the whole block congratulating her and uplifting her as the “one who made it out” by making it all the way to a prestigious school. Her story resonates heavily with that of other first-generation Latinas who, having made their way to higher education, feel the weight on their shoulders to make their family and comunidad proud. Upon coming back home, she struggles with the shame of telling her family why she’s home, feeing undeserving of the praise but wanting to step into her power and truth.

Vada Cavell – The Fallout

In The Fallout, Vada (Jenna Ortega) struggles with the emotional trauma from experiencing a school shooting during which she hid in a bathroom stall after getting a call from her sister. After the fact, she falls into a deep depression, isolating herself and coping with substances while pulling away from her family, friends, and even her love interest, Mia. During the process, she slowly comes to terms with what happened to her and her need for mental health support realizing she has post-traumatic stress.

Ana/Carmen – Real Women Have Curves

Ana and Carmen’s mother-daughter relationship, portrayed by America Ferrera and Lupe Ontiveros respectively, embodies generational trauma. For women in Carmen’s generation, their pathway to security was often through marriage and with that came adhering to marianismo by showing domesticity and femininity. With her daughters, specifically Ana, she has a need to pass down this sense of security by encouraging marriage and this manifests in body shaming Ana to have a more “desirable” body type and poking fun at her college aspirations since they pull away from her family obligations.

Tina – The Garden Left Behind

Tina Carrera is a Mexican trans woman living in New York City battling her anxiety surrounding being undocumented. Through therapy sessions and activism within the trans community, we see Tina slowly come into her own. The film’s portrayal of Tina and mental health embody how intersectionality also pertains to mental health. Not only does Tina have to deal with her immigration status and her grandmother’s traditional ways, but she and her community are under constant threat of violence as trans women of color. All of these parts of her life and identity inevitably meet, which can weigh heavily on one’s mental health.

Lily Diaz – With Love

Lily Diaz (Emeraude Toubia) put the complicated reality of being a Latina who has just turned 30 and doesn’t have life figured out yet. Her character deals with the pressures from her family of getting married and being at a certain place in life at her age meanwhile she’s trying to find her place outside of everyone else’s expectations. She enjoys a double quince to celebrate her 30th and we see her working toward breaking away from the anxiety of trying to be what everyone else wants you to be. We see her developing a bucket list of experiences and juggling romance between two men all while living with her parents which adds its own level of stress. Through it all she fights through the familial/societal pressures to come into her own.

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BIPOC mental health Latinx mental health Latinx representation Mental Health mental health awareness mental health awareness month
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