The Latinx culture has historically stigmatized mental illness. Many relate mental illness to loco (Spanish for crazy) and some don’t acknowledge it as a mental health disorder in fear of being judged. It is one of the most stigmatized topics within the Hispanic community, but that has to change. We have to be open and willing to start these conversations that can potentially save many lives.
My cousin Fabricio committed suicide in February of this year. He had been depressed for years, and like many suicides, it came as a shock to our family. He had one of the kindest hearts and one of the brightest smiles. Nobody would have ever thought he was going through such a tough time. Many things about his suicide remain unanswered, but r this tragedy exacerbated the idea that depression, along with most mental illnesses, is taboo in the Latinx culture. We care so much about saving face that sometimes the most important things go unnoticed or simply ignored.
Naturally, I asked myself many questions about what I could have done to prevent such a tragedy, but this always seemed to simply raise more questions. Why? Because no one could have taken his pain away. When my cousin passed away, I of course asked my grandmother—one of the closest people to him—if she saw any signs of what could have led him to this point. She mentioned that he had gone to therapy for some time due to “some depression.” When he stopped going, nobody asked questions, they just assumed he was all fixed. He wasn’t “fixed.” He was suffering. He suffered in silence until he couldn’t take it anymore. It’s not that he wanted to die; he simply wanted the pain to go away.
In Latinx culture, the mentality has always been to “tough it out” or “take it like a man, so discussing mental health, especially when it’s something “negative” is perceived as unacceptable. To be honest, the older generations hardly like to name mental illnesses and consider them nonexistent. They think of depression as something we have to get over quickly because thinking about our emotions shows weakness and there is no time for that.
I asked my father, a 60-year-old Mexican man raised by a raging alcoholic who could have been the poster child for machismo, his thoughts on depression and mental illness. Unfortunately, he reinforced the stigma and became part of the problem: “I think that it is a westernized/American term that has been created within a culture of stress and fear of failure. Back in my day, there was no time to think about how we felt because we kept busy with labor. In the mornings, I had to go to the well for water. We went to school. After school, we had to feed the chickens, and all of our livestock; we did chores we needed to do; did homework, and went to bed, repeating the same daily routine day after day. We were too in touch with going through the motions: we never thought about emotions.”
According to VeryWellMind, 60% of people who commit suicide suffer from depression. That is an overwhelming amount of people who need our support. With the right, individualized, approach it is possible for them to receive it. When a person is suffering from depression, no matter how much help or support they have from their family and friends, sometimes it is not enough to take away that sinking feeling of becoming a fleeting memory.
My cousin, like many others who are suicidal, might not have necessarily wanted to die. He wanted the pain he felt to leave his body and the only solution he knew was to let go of life entirely. I often wonder what it would have been like to dig deeper into his feelings—to get to know that side of him when he needed it most. It is also hard not to wonder: if our community did not stigmatize depression so much, would he still be with us today?
It is suicide prevention month, so let’s start having these tough and sometimes awkward conversations to continue creating awareness around depression and any mental illness. Let’s discuss these taboo issues in order to give hope to those who feel helpless. Maybe through normalizing conversations around this, the available resources, and the appropriate support, we might just give hope to those who feel helpless.