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Talking to Latiné Young People About Mental Health

 In Diversity & Gen Z, Mental Health

For Mental Health Awareness Month, Dr. Kitzia Moreno-Garza, a clinical psychologist who focuses on children and adolescents, shares her experiences in researching and working with Latino/a/é young people. Below is an excerpt of her post that appeared on our Psychology Today blog, Young People Decoded.  

In the past, many therapists were trained that showing respect to a person from a different background or culture meant not bringing up their background or culture—that wasn’t meant to be part of the therapeutic space. Now, we’re teaching future therapists that the way to be respectful is to bring that conversation into the room. It’s important to show it’s okay to talk about those pieces of yourself. 

This is especially true for Latina/o/é individuals. Stigma in Latiné communities (among other structural barriers) often prevents Latinés from seeking and receiving mental health care; young people who face increased stigma around mental health in their communities are especially reticent to talk to the adults in their lives about it. While Latiné young people report rates of anxiety, depression, and trauma comparable to their white peers, they are less likely than their peers to have seen a mental health professional. This disparity in mental health care underscores the need for trusted adults in the lives of Latiné teens and young adults. But while the benefits of trusted adults in the lives of young people are clear, becoming a trusted adult is easier said than done. In my clinical work, I’ve seen non-family adults become trusted adults by having conversations with the young Latinés they serve in culturally informed—and sustaining—ways. This means acknowledging and celebrating young people’s cultural identities, values, practices, and ways of being. This kind of care from non-family adults supports Latiné young people’s positive emotional development, reduces mental health concerns, and decreases the internalization of stigma associated with mental illness.     

While becoming a trusted adult may seem like a daunting task, it simply starts with a desire to help and a commitment to care. Here are practical steps adults can take to begin having culturally responsive and sustaining conversations about mental health with the Latiné young people in your life.

  • Do Your Research

Having productive discussions around mental health often means learning an entirely new language. Check out some of the free resources aimed at helping the public (including young people!) increase their mental health literacy (MIL). Also learn about how low levels of MIL (due to stigma or other structural barriers) may show up. For example, in Latiné cultures, low levels of MIL often prevent people from seeking and receiving mental health care. In the long term, mental health problems can start to manifest as physical symptoms. So, while it’s easy to address ongoing complaints of a stomachache, also consider any anxiety or other emotions that may be fueling it. Approach your research nonjudgmentally and with an open mind. Build your mental health vocabulary so you can feel confident approaching these conversations, knowing what to look for and when to refer out to a higher level of care.

  • Ask Questions 

Doing your research and learning about mental health challenges is a great start. But providing mental health support for the young people who trust you is not a one-size-fits-all —what works for one young person may not work for another. Let the young people in your care tell you what different emotional states mean to them. Ask them about how they’re feeling, both in the moments when they seem okay and in the moments when they don’t. Try asking questions that are harder to respond to than with just one word. The words who, what, where, when, how are great question starters. 

Read the rest of Dr. Moreno-Garza’s tips on our Psychology Today blog, Young People Decoded. 

Picture of Dr. Kitzia Moreno-Garza

Dr. Kitzia Moreno-Garza

Springtide BIPOC Research Fellow

Picture of Dr. Kitzia Moreno-Garza

Dr. Kitzia Moreno-Garza

Springtide BIPOC Research Fellow

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