For Girls With Roots in Latin America, Cultural Pressure Can Mean Mental Health Struggles

Zayas said he saw cultural attitudes influencing therapy access first hand in Philadelphia. “In my practice, as a mental health provider, they’d come in and they didn’t want therapy, lo que querían eran consejos (what they wanted was advice).” That way, he said, they could still feel like they weren’t getting therapy — just some words of advice.

Yazdani Trujillo

Yazdani Trujillo

“My cultural heritage plays some part of why I ignore my mental health,” Yazdani Trujillo, a 17-year-old Afro-Latina from Brooklyn, with Mexican and Brazilian roots, says. “This is because in Latine communities, mental health isn’t really talked about, which is why often we struggle to find ways to cope.”

Zoie Guity, a 19-year-old Afro-Latina from Brooklyn, with Honduran Garifuna roots, has been coping on her own due to the silence around mental health. Zoie says her mental health struggles have been present for a big chunk of her life, since her twin sister was diagnosed with cancer.

“Since my sister was in the hospital, everyone was so focused on her, but they had to be. I was basically left to just deal with everything on my own,” she says. Despite trying to push through, Zoie’s symptoms eventually worsened. “At one point, depression prevented me from enjoying the daily activities I usually enjoyed. I thought about quitting the dance team and the step team because of how intense my low days were. I felt like I had no one to talk to about what I was feeling because it was difficult for me to put it into words.”

Zoie Guity

Courtesy of Zoie Guity

When mental health is acknowledged, our cultural values, especially as descendants of immigrants, often tell us to work harder and focus on something else. Jailani Marie Guzman, a 16-year-old Afro-Latina from the Bronx, of Dominican roots, says, “I joined a bunch of clubs and a lot of volunteer activities, so I wouldn’t have to feel like I was doing nothing or think about emotions too much. I feel like if I’m distracted, I wouldn’t focus on negative emotions.”

Jailani says her sadness reached a peak when she had to worry about her living conditions in her neighborhood and inside her home. “Being from the Bronx means I constantly have to worry about my safety. I had to constantly make sure everything worked in the apartment,” Jailani says. “It didn’t matter how much time we spent cleaning … rats and roaches would still find their way into the apartment.”

An analytic review published in 2016 noted that, “Black [Latines] have lower median household income, higher unemployment, and a higher poverty rate than do white Latines.” Unsurprisingly, that can impact health and wellbeing, according to the review.

In addition to poor living conditions, and the stress of discrimination, your access to community can also impact mental health.

“Discrimination was so prevalent for me because of the lack of representation for the queer community in my hometown,” Ve’ondre Mitchell, an 18-year-old Afro-Latina from Washington state, says. “For most people in my hometown, I was the first trans person they ever met, and being a racial minority in a majority white populated area didn’t help either. Because of this, though my teen years are precious and need to be cherished, they overlap with sadness.”

Jailani Marie Guzman

Courtesy of Jailani Marie Guzman

Of course, Latine and Black teens face many of the same anxiety-worsening pressures their peers do, but these can be compounded by cultural expectations.

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