Adriana Alejandre’s first brush with depression was when she was a pregnant teen, feeling isolated from her family and unaware of how to handle it. Growing up in a Mexican-Guatemalan household, Alejandre was raised to push through instead of voicing grievances and now she was battling feelings she never experienced before and felt there was no one to turn to.
“We learned that we do not air out our dirty laundry. Todo entre familia.” she tells HipLatina. “We learned therapy is for crazy people and only the severe mentally ill need therapy.”Dealing with her depression and pregnancy during her first year at UC Santa Barbara, Alejandre discovered therapy after one of her professors suggested it. For the first time, she felt validated and was diagnosed with prenatal depression and later immersed herself in cognitive behavioral therapy which spurred her to make her mental health a priority.
Alejandre isn’t alone but it’s her efforts to help the Latinx community that makes her stand out. The number of Latinxs suffering from mental illness versus the number who seek aid is greatly disproportionate and has been the impetus for her career as a mental health professional.
In 2011, nearly 16 percent of people 18 years or older with a mental illness were Latinx. The prevalence of depression in Latinas is almost twice as high as Latino men at 46 percent versus 19.6 percent, respectively, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A 2015 study published by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies revealed that five percent of active psychologists in the U.S. identified as Hispanic as of 2013.
Alejandre believes the biggest hurdle Latinxs face in getting help is lack of resources and a “confusing system” that prohibits people from fully comprehending what their insurers provide. But beyond a lack of understanding of the healthcare system, Alejandre points out how growing up without learning how to seek emotional aid means many are also unaware of free resources that are available.
“The physical act of asking for help feels counter-intuitive for many Latinx individuals,” she explains, so having resources also “motivates the community to seek help.” When Alejandre got her license in 2017, she created a Facebook group to connect with Latinx mental health professionals. The group grew to 1,500 and after some trial and error, she was able to develop the directory on her site that features a map highlighting their locations. Though they have yet to heavily market it since they’re still expanding, they already have about 120 members that Alejandre works with twice a month.
The vetting process to join requires that a Latinx therapist be licensed or an associate operate in a private practice. The latest addition that has yet to go live on the site is the Speaker Directory for therapists and mental health advocates who do speaking engagements, an opportunity that Alejandre says is still not as readily available to people of color.
The majority of therapists in the directory are located in California due to her connections and according to Alejandre, it’s been difficult finding Latinx therapists in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, Wyoming, Kentucky and Tennessee, and Nebraska. “Most of these are ‘red’ states and if they are not ‘red’ they are rural. In many rural states, we find less Latinx therapists because they are not usually sought out for services since they may be less accessible,” she said.
In order to bridge the gap, she’s also developing a curriculum for therapists so that they can run their own support groups online and she also offers private practices courses for therapists of color to start their own practice. Additionally, she offers bilingual resources for people that include low-cost resources.
Alejandre is a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma and anxiety in cases including sexual assault, domestic violence, and mass shooting survivors and works out of her office in Porter Ranch in the San Fernando Valley located in Los Angeles County.
On August first, she’s opening the Counseling and Trauma Therapy Center in Burbank, about 17 miles south of Porter Ranch. It’ll be a space for independent Latinx therapists that’ll provide a variety of services for people of color. Alejandre intends to host support groups both in-person and online, as well as have networking events for mental health professionals to encourage growth and expansion.
“It was quite the learning curve but I am grateful for the experience because I plan on continuing helping and mentoring others wanting to start their own business,” she says. Going out of her comfort zone for the sake of the job is nothing new for her considering her initial concern with launching the podcast, Latinx Therapy, in April 2018.
“Since practicing, I began to notice a gap between bilingual clinical services and accessibility,” she says. “I was frustrated so I decided to create the podcast to fill this gap for myself and my community. “[It] was stressful to the introvert within me. I just kept thinking it would not be received well, so when I launched and I received hundreds of messages thanking me for my podcast, I could not believe it.”
The third episode “When La Chancla Crosses the Line” is the one that stands out to her the most and is one of the most popular episodes, both in English and Spanish. In it, they discuss the realities of child abuse and trauma and how the idea of “la chancla” has become a cultural meme which consequently “invalidates the trauma.” This culture competency is just one example of why she believes it’s crucial for POC who seek therapy to have access to therapists of color.
“Our community desperately needs Latinx therapists out there because we have stories that our community can relate to and validate experiences without the need for clients to explain cultural customs or creencias,” she explains. “In being able to relate, it decreases stigma and fear of being judged. Without Latinx therapists, cycles would take much longer to break.”
With nearly 30k followers on Instagram and ever-growing online services on a national level, Alejandre has helped thousands but she’s also endured her fair share of negative feedback. But she doesn’t let it sway her from her mission.
“Honestly, all of the messages and emails make it worth it and I’ll continue to push forward my efforts because these messages are proof and evidence that Latinx Therapy is what was missing in our world,” she says. She has hopes of eventually developing an app and wants to continue to provide the Latinx community with the resources sorely lacking. According to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, “Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group within the United States.”
“Better healthcare coverage for mental health is needed in order for clients to be served using their current benefits, but also so that therapists are able to sustain their practice and families,” she explains. “Many POC therapists don’t inherit money. We work from the ground up like our parents did and in turn, end up being financial caretakers for our families too. It’s cultural.”
Alejandre is taking what she’s learned and applying it to her relationship with her own son, teaching him that tears are a healthy way of finding relief. She’s also tackling the “silent stigma” in Latinx culture where kids are left feeling responsible for their parents’ feelings, which can carry over to the way they are in relationships.
Her son is an example of a younger generation that’s growing up with mental health awareness and with Alejandre and her growing cadre of therapists of color, it seems the younger generation is exactly who will feel the impact of her efforts.
“As cliche as this is, you truly are not alone. It is difficult asking for help because we are taught not to, but it’s the first step towards changing this current feeling of pain and suffering. Many of us have also had this feeling of not wanting to reach out because perhaps no one can help or understand us. That’s the depression talking, though. I’m here to tell you that we are here for you, we are trained and ready to help.”