What is Hispanic Heritage Month?

The 2021 theme for Hispanic Heritage Month is Esperanza: A celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope. This celebration was first established as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 under former President Lyndon B. Johnson and was extended to a full month in 1988 by former President Ronald Regan. Unlike many other monthly observed celebrations, Hispanic Heritage Month starts on the 15th of September and ends on the 15th of October. This augmented celebration encompasses several culturally important dates, including Día de la Raza and the anniversaries of when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence.


Mental Illness Prevalence in the Hispanic & Latinx Community

In addition to celebrating important moments in the Hispanic and the Latinx community, this observance also helps open the conversation about various experiences that this demographic faces. Mental health is one of the areas that require more attention. Data from behavioral psychologists estimate that around 34% of Hispanic/Latinx adults with mental illness receive treatment each year. A recent study done by SAMHSA found that individuals who identified as Hispanic/Latinx saw a sharp increase of depression and suicidal ideation between the age range of 18 and 25. Contrastingly individuals 50 years and older saw a significant decline in the same areas.


The Mental Cost of Starting Over

When initially thinking about the immigration process, many may focus on the physical relocation, resource reallocation, and job force challenges. However, there is a very big mental health implication that also needs to be addressed. It can take upwards of 5 years for an immigrant to gain full American citizenship. This lengthy process can be impacted by the initial application, green card retrieval, and jumping through all of the lesser-known hoops to satisfy the requirements of the U.S and Immigration Services officials. Although it is advised to follow the official immigration procedures to join the American society, dire circumstances often influence immigrants from all over the world to relocate to America without completing the legal process. This reality leads to many 1st generation Hispanic Americans and immigrants having anxiety about the possibility of their families being separated. In recognizing that dire circumstances influence rushed immigration, former President Obama’s Affordable Care Act included conditions to allow undocumented immigrants to access needed health care, including mental health services.


Cultural Barriers

Even when many Hispanic and Latinx citizens settle into American society, they often face a new set of difficulties. The language barrier is one of the most blatant disconnects. This issue can significantly impact immigrants who are new English speakers. Because the Hispanic diaspora covers many Latin countries, new citizens often have to translate entire conversations from Spanish, Quechua, Nahuatl, or Portuguese to English. This leads to many misunderstandings that can have life-altering implications. In the Mental health arena, a common miscommunication occurs when Hispanic/Latinx clients express experiencing nervios, a form of depression. Health professionals who are not familiar with Hispanic languages, in some cases, misdiagnose clients with lessor conditions.


How to Help with the Adjustment

America is very much a melting pot of many different cultures from around the world. It is essential to balance respect for our individual lived experience while also being able to co-exist and intermingle as a health community. As the Hispanic and Latinx community continues to enrich our cultural diversity further, we must be conscious and mindful of specific cultural indicators that indicate the need for mental health support. Efforts such as incorporating learning common cultural phrases and their meanings and learning about cultural experiences that specifically impact the Hispanic community are critical. Lastly, similar to other cultures, it is also essential to understand how the Hispanic and Latinx community at large feel and deal with mental health.


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