The year after I had my baby was a tough one. I experienced wildly fluctuating mood swings, often leaning toward violent outbursts. I was despondent, paranoid, and so angry. I thought “I should be overjoyed over the birth of my first child.” I’d experienced four pregnancy losses, so why wasn’t I happy to finally have a baby? What was happening to me?
About six months into my ordeal, my mother said, “I think your abuela had something like this. Sometimes, she would just…scream.”
My dad confided in me that my own mother experienced something similar. He referred to it as my mother “climbing the walls” when my sister and I were little. He always knew the signs, and would take us out of the house to give my mother some space. “They didn’t have words for it back then,” my Dad told me.
The words? Post Partum Depression.
Depression is not a word often spoken aloud in the Hispanic community. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I learned that, not only did my grandmother have it, but also my mother and possibly some of her sisters. Writing this now causes me some anxiety as I don’t want to embarrass anybody, but after suffering alone for so long, I know that the greatest thing any of us can do regarding mental illness is to talk about it, openly and often.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness or NAMI, common mental health disorders among Latinos include generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism. Research has shown that as a community, Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment and more likely to be misdiagnosed. The antidote? Getting informed and seeking help.
I finally sought help from a naturopath who prescribed medication, and after three years, I weaned off of them. Even today, I’m hyper-vigilant about any signs of depression. At least I now know where to turn for help.
There seems to be a general reluctance to seek help for mental illness in the Latino community. At one point in her life, Terry Patterson experienced clinical depression, feeling sad and worthless. She had just lost her mother while pregnant with her daughter, and while a few of her aunts called her on occasion to check on her, she didn’t express how she was really feeling.
“I felt embarrassed about how I felt, and insisted to them that I was doing well, everything was great. As far as they were concerned, I was sad about mom, but happy with my baby and my marriage,” says Terry. “Why would I even reveal to them that things were not well for me, especially that I was having suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want them to think I was crazy. They were very religious. I didn’t want them to condemn me.”
Terry was so afraid others would think she was crazy and couldn’t take care of her kids, that it took her a while before she finally told her husband how she was feeling.
Recalls Terry, “I literally started by saying, ‘please don’t think I’m insane, but…’ He did what I thought he’d do. He told me I needed to see the doctor immediately. I did not want to do that at all. I don’t know if it was pride or shame— whatever it was, it was unthinkable to me to reveal something like that to others.”
Terry eventually spoke with her family doctor and got a prescription, remaining on medication for two years. Her husband was more aware of her condition and made extra effort to help around the house and with the kids. With her doctor, she sought out something she could do that would give her purpose. She began teaching herself web programming, something that brought her new opportunities and a sense of accomplishment.
Sonia aka Babushka, a Latina blogger at Babushka’s Baile, experienced something that no mother should have to experience: the hospitalization of her daughter in an unresponsive, catatonic state caused by stress-related severe depression. Sonia turned to her community for help.
“No one came forth to help, no suggestions, no recommendations, nada,” Sonia recalls. “In a culture that’s all about family, solidarity, opinions and being vocal, the silence was permanent in the Latino corner.”
Sonia found support from NAMI, and attributes the silence to the taboo of mental illness in the Latino community. In response, she created a #StopTheStigma campaign with blog posts, webinars, events, online discussions and a radio show to draw attention to the issue.
Says Sonia, “Mental Illness is just that, an illness. Like the diseases of cancer and diabetes, awareness and education on mental illness are vital. Show compassion, learn a little more of (people’s) struggles, don’t hide their stories.”
“Pride or shame should not be part of the equation when it comes to your mental wellbeing,” says Terry. “It takes a tremendous amount of inner strength and decisiveness to arrive at the conclusion that this is not a battle that you can fight alone, so finding the support necessary is a sure journey to recovery.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, here are some tips from the National Alliance of Mental Illness:
- Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learn all you can about mental health – be informed.
- Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or state/country mental health authority for additional resources.
- Contact the NAMI HelpLine to find out what services and supports are available in your community at 800-950-NAMI for information in English and Spanish or on the web at www.nami.org.
- If you or someone you know needs helps immediately, you should either call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911.
You can find other warning signs of mental illness on the NAMI site. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Know-the-Warning-Signs
Look for the hashtags #StopTheStigma and #IamStigmaFree in social media. You can also download the NAMI Air app for iPhone or Android to anonymously share your story. En Español: Qué es depresíon: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/%C2%BFqu%C3%A9-es-la-depresi%C3%B3n