Everyone has mental health, the same way that everyone has physical health—but how mental health is addressed for each person or community can vary vastly.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. Only 35.1% of Latinos seek treatment for a mental illness when compared to 51.8% Non-Hispanic white individuals.
A recent study noted that “prevalence rates of depression (mild to severe) in Latina mothers range from 12% to 59% in the perinatal period, compared to 10% to 15% in the general population.”
While exhaustive data isn’t available yet, experts agree that the conversation around mental health can shift from generation to generation, particularly in cultures and groups where talking about mental health is considered shameful or taboo.
“Our ancestors, mamas, and abuelas (grandmothers), also experienced depression, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed,” explains Araceli Vidales, LMFT, a therapist at Alma. “The difference is, they may not have labeled it as such. All you need is one person taking small steps to create generational change and generational healing.”
Mariela De La Mora, a Business and Leadership Coach and mom to a five-year-old daughter, has reworked her own mental health and has seen the trickle down effect first-hand.
“I’ve released a lot of shame around having mental health struggles in the first place, which is something that my mom’s generation didn’t discuss,” explains De La Mora. “There was so much fear of what people would say if you weren’t this shining beacon of mothering perfection. And what’s interesting is, now that I have focused so much on my healing, my mother has been able to open up to me about how much she struggled with her mental health when she was raising my sisters and I. It’s beautiful how acknowledgment breeds self compassion and healing.”
Vidales encourages those who are looking to reinvent their relationship to mental health and self-care to focus on the small, sustainable acts that can add up.
“This may be as simple as hugging our parents [or] children or saying I love you,” shares Vidales. “It may be including our mothers in our self-care routines.”
“My mom worked very hard, long hours and still was able to raise me the best she knew, but I don't believe she prioritized her mental health back then because to be honest, I don't think it was even a thing in the 80s,” explains Batista. “These days though, she is very aware of how important our mental health is and like me, she makes sure to meditate, go on walks, drink her favorite tea and spend time with loved ones. We are both very similar these days—we prioritize self care, self love and mental health.”
The mountains this generation of Latina mothers have to navigate are rooted in both culture and systemic gaps in mental health care. According to NAMI, “35.1% of Hispanic/Latinx adults with mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 46.2%.”
“It’s important to analyze the narrative about our cultura (culture/Latinx Culture) not prioritizing or being accepting of mental health,” encourages Vidales.
“Instead of looking at it as part of a cultural issue, externalizing it by acknowledging external factors that have impacted marginalized communities and resulted in mental health not being a priority. It is empowering to identify the strengths and protective factors of culture.”
Ways to rework Latinx mental health
Focus on your mind-body connection
Once you’re ready to start prioritizing your mental health, Vidales encourages re-establishing a mind-body connection:
“Stop and notice how your body feels. As mothers, we can become very disconnected with our bodies because who has time to be sick?! It’s important to check in with yourself; where do you feel tension, why do you feel irritable, how was your sleep, is your body screaming for rest?”
Reframe old tales of what a mom “should” be doing
“The second component is asking for and accepting help,” explains Vidales.
“I frequently hear from moms how difficult it is to ask for and accept help. They often have unrealistic expectations about how much they should be able to handle because their mamas did it. Si, but at what cost? Asking for and accepting help is not a deficit—rather a strength. You are modeling positive coping skills to your children and to our mamas! You are creating generational change by one simple act.”
For Batista, this looks like leaning on her rotating support system.
“Mental health is top priority in our household,” explains Batista. “But how do I [have time to self-care]? I have a handful of people I trust that I rotate to babysit. My husband and my mom are big supporters of my mental health care and I feel so blessed for it. I make sure to vocalize my needs, my stress, and we actively work on making sure our schedules sync.”
Holding what you were taught with how you’re reparenting yourself is also essential.
“It’s important to acknowledge and have conversations with our mamas about the sacrifices our parents and mothers made in order for the next generation to have the ‘luxury’ of ‘me’ time,” notes Vidales.
“Reframing it in terms of progress and healing thanks to the foundation they have laid out. When that mom guilt is laid on real thick, remember, ‘me time’ is a foreign concept to our mothers. They may not understand it or ever agree with it, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. Sometimes we have to come to a place of acceptance about views that may never change due to experiences our mamas had. Rather than trying to change their mind, show them with your actions the benefits of self-care.”
De La Mora adds, “In many ways, becoming a mother has been the biggest catalyst for managing my mental health and healing my inner child. In raising my daughter, I’ve re-experienced my childhood and I am seeing how differently I am showing up compared to what my mother had the capacity for. I truly believe that healing and managing our mental health has a massive ripple effect that changes generations whether we have children or not, and it is the most impactful work we will ever do.”
As Latina moms continue to rework their relationship to self-care, Vidales encourages thinking of it as a muscle you’re constantly honing.
“Start by practicing and feeling comfortable saying, ‘no.’,” explains Vidales. “No to that extra project, no to doing favors because you feel bad saying no, and no to overextending yourself.”
While there are so many other ways for Latina moms to take care of their mental health, these are a good start for reframing how the topic is talked about within the Latinx community. So take heed to this advice and start making your mental health a priority—even if it takes some time.