Overcoming the Stigma Around Mental Health in Hispanic Culture

As we continue celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Michelle Rojas, Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Spring Health and three of our Care Navigators are sharing their personal experiences with navigating mental health stigma within their Hispanic culture and communities.

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Michelle Rojas
Associate Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Clinically reviewed by
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    The deep-rooted stigma gripping Hispanic employees 

    In Hispanic culture, there’s a strong emphasis on privacy when discussing mental health issues. Many individuals have been conditioned to believe that openly addressing these challenges is socially unacceptable, perpetuating a multi-generational cycle of stigma resulting in prolonged suffering in silence. 

    Simultaneously, the Hispanic community faces unique institutional and systemic barriers that deter individuals from seeking mental health services.

    According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), only 35.1% of Hispanic adults with mental illness receive treatment annually, which is significantly lower than the U.S. average of 46.2%. This disparity places community members at a much higher risk for serious mental health conditions.

    Stigma can be debilitating, even for industry professionals

    By Michelle Rojas

    Being a first-generation American of Latin descent and working as a social worker in a corporate setting has sharpened my ability to navigate the intricate mental health industry. However, dealing with my own mental health challenges within the deeply rooted Latin culture poses an entirely different set of obstacles.   

    Recognizing that I needed mental health support was a process that took time. The prevalent stigma surrounding mental health within Latin culture proved to be a significant barrier. Common phrases like, “Just be strong, figure it out, and push forward” echo in our culture, making it hard for individuals to seek help.  

    Mental health is often viewed as a weakness in others, creating a debilitating atmosphere for those needing positive support. When I was able to admit, “Hey, I need help,” discussing it with my mom became a challenge.  

    The disparity between how Latin communities view others seeking mental health assistance and our community’s approach to it speaks volumes about the pervasive stigma surrounding this aspect of well-being.

    Family and religion remain powerful influences in Hispanic culture

    By Jonathan Mendoza

    The influence of Latin culture significantly shapes how individuals perceive mental health, often leading to negative impact and stigma. These stigmas manifest in various ways, with a prevailing skepticism about the legitimacy of mental health issues and the genuine need for mental health resources and support. Seeking help from someone outside the family to address internal struggles is often unacceptable.

    Within the Latino community, when individuals are facing mental health challenges, they commonly turn to God or seek solace in the Catholic Church. 

    Latinos are raised to become the focal point and sole provider of the family unit, always available to support others. They are taught to prioritize the well-being of every family member over their individual needs. Displaying any form of vulnerability or asking for external assistance is considered unacceptable. 

    Individualism suffers at the hands of religion and the collective good

    By Sandra Rios-Monsante

    Religious beliefs hold immense significance within the Hispanic community, shaping various aspects of life, including mental health and well-being. Unfortunately, these beliefs can deter community members from seeking help, as turning to therapy is often viewed as lacking faith. There’s a prevailing cultural belief that seeking mental health support outside religious channels signifies a deficiency in faith, reinforcing the stigma around it.

    This religion-based stigma can lead to absolute thinking, where individuals feel compelled to choose between faith and therapy, preventing them from realizing that both can coexist. Seeking mental health support doesn’t obligate anyone to relinquish their religious beliefs.

    Additionally, the emphasis on collective well-being sometimes overshadows individual needs in the Hispanic community. There’s a tendency to think collectively, neglecting individual analysis of what might be best for a specific person. This collective mindset can stifle personal growth and self-care.

    Furthermore, weak boundaries in Hispanic culture contribute to maladaptive relationships, adversely impacting mental health and overall well-being. 

    Addressing these cultural dynamics with compassion and awareness is essential for fostering a supportive environment—where individuals feel empowered to seek help without fear of judgment or conflict with faith. 

    Permeating cultural barriers to care

    By Karen Salas-Caballero

    Culture profoundly shapes attitudes toward mental healthcare in Hispanic communities, with a pervasive stigma as a barrier to care. Many community members struggle to overcome this stigma, associating mental health services with being labeled as “crazy,” and often viewing consultations with psychiatrists or therapists as a last resort.

    In Hispanic culture, collective well-being consistently precedes individual needs, including seeking support within the community. Challenging family norms or generational traditions can result in being perceived as disruption or dissenting. 

    In my role, I observe two distinct categories of unique barriers to care for Hispanic employees: first,  considerations related to family and culture, and second, structural and workplace barriers. 

    Community members often face intense pressure to succeed, especially if they are the first in their families to attend college and financially support their families. This external pressure can lead to perfectionism, difficulty in self-advocacy, higher stress and anxiety, and workplace burnout. 

    How HR and People leaders can help employees overcome stigma

    Addressing mental health stigma in the workplace for Hispanic employees requires a proactive and compassionate approach. Here are strategies to consider implementing within your organization:

    Prioritize mental health education

    Improve mental health awareness among employees, emphasizing that struggles are shared experiences. Conduct workshops or seminars tailored to the cultural context of Hispanic employees to foster understanding and support.

    Provide training for team leaders

    Equip team leaders with tools to recognize and address mental health issues, including overcoming cultural stigma. Hands-on leadership training from experts can empower leaders to engage in difficult conversations and offer meaningful support.  

    Consider unique needs

    Acknowledge that underrepresented groups, including Hispanic employees, face distinct barriers. Normalize conversations around mental health by encouraging leaders to share their experiences, breaking down barriers to care and inspiring others to seek help.

    Cultivate open communication

    Foster transparent communication channels between leadership and team members. Encourage one-on-one check-ins, where Hispanic employees can confidentially discuss stressors and mental health challenges, promoting a supportive and empathetic environment.

    Set achievable goals for equality

    Establish consistent pathways to success, ensuring equal opportunities for Hispanic employees. Provide tailored support and mentorship, acknowledging individual starting points and fostering professional growth.

    Consider an innovative EAP

    For Hispanic employees seeking support, ensuring that your existing Employee Assistance Program (EAP) meets their specific needs is crucial. They need quick access to a diverse network of culturally competent providers who understand their background and lived experience, along with guidance in selecting the right provider.

    If your current EAP lacks these features, consider transitioning to an innovative EAP. Our providers use evidence-based tools and therapies while closely monitoring outcomes throughout the treatment. Additionally, Spring Health offers care navigation services led by licensed, masters-level clinicians—like our authors, Sandra, Jonathan, and Karen.

    Enrolled employees have unlimited access to their dedicated Care Navigator, offering inbound and outbound support. This personalized guidance addresses concerns and assists them throughout their mental health journey. This level of support proves invaluable for Hispanic employees seeking culturally sensitive and effective mental health care.

    Read this blog next to go even deeper into ways you can nurture leadership, promote equality, and enhance growth and well-being for Hispanic employees.

    About the Author
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    Michelle Rojas
    Associate Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

    Michelle is a Corporate Social Worker and passionate about unlocking access and opportunity for marginalized groups. Prior to joining Spring Health, Michelle led DEI at mission driven companies and social enterprises like Imperfect Foods and Hot Bread Kitchen. She is an East Coast native and currently lives in Denver Colorado with her partner and two dogs.

    About the clinical reviewer
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