I recently had the opportunity to visit Colombia, specifically a small town called Filandia. It is said that this small town was part of the inspiration for the movie Encanto. As I walked the streets and admired the city, I couldn’t help but think about the messages that were showcased throughout the movie. I wondered what people of this town thought when they witnessed Bruno hiding within the walls of the casita or when Mirabel felt shunned from her family for not having a powerful gift. Most importantly, I wondered how much of an impact this movie had on the idea of mental health within this community considering how it addressed generational trauma.
Mental health is still very much a stigma within many communities, specifically within the Latinx community. While I can acknowledge that mental health has been the topic of conversation for many of us in recent years, there are still communities who live believing that they are not allowed to ask for help and they definitely are not allowed to share family secrets. Many of our living elders would not tolerate uncomfortable conversations and instead, would rather ignore or pretend like things are not happening. This is the reality for many of us.
As the daughter of immigrants, from a very young age I was taught about what I was allowed and not allowed to say in various environments. I was often left navigating the world with questions and wonder. I was taught that “los nervios” is something that happens because “así es” and we therefore don’t ask questions. I don’t quite remember asking why we did the things we did, it was just an understanding that this is how we navigate the world. Sound familiar?
Now as a mental health professional who is continuously doing her own work toward mental and emotional wellbeing, I can understand why things were the way they were. I constantly find myself talking about uncomfortable topics and have now learned that these things are called stigmas. A few that come to mind are:
Message: “La depresion no existe” (Depression does not exist)
What they might have meant: “I don’t understand what depression is so I don’t know how to help.”
Message: “I’m not paying someone to talk to”
What they might have meant: “I’ve never had someone to talk to so I don’t understand the financial commitment associated with it.”
Message: “Only crazy people go to therapy” (La terapia es para locos)
What they might have meant: “I don’t understand therapy and how it can help”
Message: “No hables con nadie sobre los problemas de la casa” (Don’t share family secrets)
What they might have meant: “I feel shame in others knowing about what we are experiencing as a family.
Message: “Ignore it and it will pass”
What they might have meant: “I’m not sure how to help you and hopefully with time, you’ll feel better”
Message: “La salud mental no existe” (Mental health does not exist)
What they might have meant: “I have feelings that are confusing and don’t know what to do with them”
Message: “You must prioritize family over your own well-being”
What they might have meant: “You are just as important as the family, please take care of yourself”
If any of these resonate with you, I hope you can see that many of us have gone through similar experiences and as such, we also have the opportunity to break cycles and heal. Healing takes time but leaning into the discomfort can be so powerful.
You may be wondering what you can do to normalize mental health while also taking care of yourself. This is important because while not everyone will agree with you, the hope is that you start planting seeds of knowledge that will eventually grow.
Here are 10 things that can be helpful:
- Baby steps: remember that everyone has their own process and change takes time.
- Check your emotional intelligence: not everyone will be aligned with you or understand you and that is okay.
- Your surroundings: surrounding yourself with likeminded people who can understand the cultural nuances that you face on a daily basis.
- Keep a journal: journaling is a great tool to help you reflect on the challenges you face.
- Give yourself permission: allow yourself to have fun and enjoy the small things even when life feels difficult.
- Continue the conversation: avoid the “out of sight/out of mind” mentality and tackle conversations head on.
- Show empathy: when you think about breaking cycles, this includes noticing how you show up. Approach things with empathy.
- Use a strengths-based approach: notice the small efforts that loved ones make. It may not be perfect but it’s something.
- Be kind: not only to others but most importantly, to yourself. Be nice to you.
- Seek professional help: talking to a mental health professional can help you organize your thoughts and truly understand your “why.”
Mental health is not always well received within our Latinx community because of the stigma it carries. However continuing to have open dialogue about it within our circles will help it be okay. If we continue to ignore it or stay silent, the cycle will continue. Our voice has a lot of weight, so weigh in on that opinion, challenge the narrative, and notice what comes up for you. Internal reflection is particularly important mainly because you can explore discomfort without pulling away from it.
If you find yourself thinking about your own upbringing and the messages you heard, I encourage you to be kind to yourself. Remember that we are all doing the best that we can with what we have. Our elders did what they were told and their elders did the same. The messages were given as a way to survive – to be able to assimilate and push forward.
When discomfort occurs is when change happens.