Latino Youth and Mental Health

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veronica_and_sons(En español) I grew up in a traditional Mexican family where talking about your feelings was just out of the question. When I started working as a social worker in a middle school, I was thrilled that I would be able to help kids talk about their feelings and help parents understand that depression and other mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of.

I wasn’t prepared for how difficult that would be, particularly among my Latino students and their families; from my experience, talking about mental health issues was even a bigger challenge with recently arrived immigrants, mainly due to cultural and linguistic barriers.

One of the biggest obstacles that I encountered when working with Latino youth, was the stigma associated with mental health issues and the response from the parents and community members. Often, the initial reaction would be to blame and punish the child for their behavior or for opening up to me about their struggles. Parents would feel threatened and fearful that social services would interfere in their lives. The thought of having a child that was unwell and possibly in need of mental health services brings about feelings of shame; many Latino parents see this as a direct reflection of their parenting skills.

It is not easy explaining to Latino parents that their child would benefit from services and that their child “acting out” is actually a maladaptive behavior due to trauma and the challenges of acculturating to a new country. There are a lot of programs to support Latino families; however, I feel that this community would greatly benefit from programs that emphasize psychoeducation and discuss, on a community level, the effects of trauma, the challenges that immigrants face, and how these both can impact a child in the school environment.

--Veronica, social worker in Boston school system

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