Guest Post by Laura Tellado (@Laurita86)
How much do we really know about depression? For many people who have a loved one who is suffering from depression, the condition might appear to be no more than mood swings, or merely a “phase” he or she will soon outgrow.
Or maybe it’s a condition that severely affects only other people, but it doesn’t apply to you or your family.
After all, we’re all “normal”—right?
Think again. It might hit closer to home than you may have imagined.
As a 2009 article on CNN.com reported, “One out of every seven Latina teens, or 14 percent, attempts suicide according to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of high school students.”
The question is no longer, “Is this really happening?” Rather, the questions are “Why is this happening?” And, “Is this happening to my daughter, my sister, my husband?”
It might be.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cited a study performed collaboratively by three educational institutions: Wayne State University in Detroit; The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
The research findings suggested that only 51 percent of those who participated and met the criteria for clinical depression received some kind of treatment for the condition. Furthermore, only 21 percent of those received treatments that were consistent with the guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
Although rates of depression were similar across all ethnic groups, the study reported that African-Americans and Mexican-Americans were the least likely to “receive any care consistent with practice guidelines.”
The NIMH also launched an initiative to educate Latino men about depression, since an estimated six million men in the U.S. are suffering from it.
And while society still struggles with the search for an explanation as to why this is, some cultural factors that come into play might help us understand the situation better.
As Latinos, we have many stigmas associated with seeking help for an illness, particularly when it comes to mental illness. In fact, our vocabulary alone goes a long way in influencing our ideas and behaviors in relation to mental health. Someone struggling with depression or bipolar disorder might be called out as having “un tornillo suelto” (“a loose screw”), or as being “mas tostado que una caja de Corn Flakes” (“crispier than a box of Corn Flakes”).
Add to that our cultural emphasis on bravado and the tendency for families to want to “resolve” issues amongst themselves, and we can begin to see why many Latinos and Latinas prefer to suffer in silence.
But we don’t have to go it alone. In fact, we shouldn’t. Take it from someone who’s been there, time and time again. I’ve dealt with depression for as long as I can recall, but I only got a diagnosis back in high school, when I finally decided that getting better was more important than any preconceived notions I had about mental illness.
The truth of the matter is, major depressive disorder, or any other mental disorder, for that matter, is as real, as palpable, and as threatening as any physical illness, and should be treated as such right away.
So, what can we do? First off, we need to change the way we talk about mental illness as a whole, discarding any stereotypes, and realizing that our well-intentioned jokes are often enough to keep our loved ones from seeking out help when they need it. We need to treat depression with the same level of respect that we would if a loved one had cancer or diabetes.
We also need to look out for relatives and friends, lest they demonstrate symptoms of depression (i.e., excessive sleeping or insomnia, loss of appetite, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities he/she normally enjoys).
Most of all, we need to let the people in our lives know that they can count on us to be there, especially when things go wrong. No one is alone or helpless in this fight, and we have more than enough resources to be educated aides in support of the people we cherish.
I am beyond blessed. Although I dealt with major depressive disorder for many years, and it went undetected during my childhood, I have always had the loving support of both my immediate and extended family, as well as my friends and mentors.
LATISM is a large community, and this is what Latinos are all about. If we can encourage one person to get help, we can encourage many.
That being said, although I still see a psychiatrist, I no longer feel the debilitating effects of my symptoms as strongly as I used to. Through LATISM, I’ve found a solid support system that acts as an extension of my wonderful family, and motivates me to always see my best attributes.
I’m using social media now lately, not to escape the “real world” as I often did before, but to communicate with others who understand and fully support me. Whereas I often used to shed tears of despair, now it’s mostly tears of joy.
For more information on the symptoms and possible treatments for depression, please visit Healthy Minds, The American Psychiatric Association, and the National Institutes of Mental Health. Para recursos sobre la depresión en español, porfavor haga clic aquí.
To help prevent a suicide, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call toll-free, 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Para español, llame al 1-888-628-9454.
ABOUT LAURA TELLADO: Laura is a journalist/blogger from Puerto Rico dedicated to generate public awareness of Spina Bifida, a neural tube defect of the spinal cord that is the #1 cause of paralysis in children in America. Follow Laura on Twitter @Laurita86. Read more about her campaign at her blog: http://holdinoutforahero.org/