FERRUM, Va. (WFXR) — Mental health is a topic that is becoming less taboo in the mainstream, but a behaviorist says more needs to be done to eliminate stigma within Hispanic and Latinx communities.
“We don’t talk about it. It essentially didn’t exist. There was a lot of ‘Stay away from that person’ or nobody ever had a conversation, something as simple as fear,” says Victor Rivera, a behavioral therapist. “I have not met anyone in any race who is not afraid. It is very normal for people to experience this. Never talk about it in the Hispanic community. It was never mentioned.”
Rivera has been a behavioral therapist for 13 years. The Puerto Rico native says his family moved to Franklin County when he was 15 years old. Since then, Rivera earned a criminal justice degree from Ferrum College and worked in the probation and parole system until budget cuts cost him his job.
A friend contacted Rivera and told him he would be a great fit for mental health at home, which led him to his current role and conversations with his family.
“The only reason my parents really talked to me about it is what I do. We see some struggles that some families are going through and things that are starting to happen that they want to know more about. So that’s been the way in my family we’ve bridged the conversation, but it’s still heavily stigmatized in the Hispanic community,” Rivera said.
Rivera blames the stigma on society’s judgment.
“People struggling with mental illness were considered ‘crazy’. If you’ve been hearing all your life that these kinds of struggles are categorized that way, you’re definitely scared to talk about it,” Rivera said. “Precisely because you don’t want to be seen in a certain way. You don’t want to be vulnerable and then be judged by the things you say while you’re vulnerable.”
According to Rivera, there are other stigmas when it comes to mental health issues in the Hispanic community. Much stems from the fact that they have to emigrate to the United States. In fact, that’s another layer of problems they face regarding race, culture and economic issues within the Hispanic community.
“Someone who immigrates to a new country and is likely to suffer a certain trauma in the process. I have not met a single person in the Hispanic community with whom I do counseling who does not have PTSD. It’s across the board. Whether it’s by coming here and being treated a certain way. Whether it’s the process of coming over to the United States,” Rivera added. “I have a person I see who tried to get here, he almost died because there’s no easy way to get here. He was trying to do better for his family, so you get emotional mental health damage along the way and you come here and you don’t speak the language.”
Rivera says one of the keys for a Hispanic person to be open about their mental health issues is to develop trust with a counselor. He says having a counselor who is Hispanic can help build that trust.
“It’s much better than having someone who is a native American, a white person learning Spanish. Counseling is a social interaction. It is much better if you meet someone who is a native speaker of the language. I grew up with Spanish. In my household we still speak Spanish. I listen to music in Spanish. I’m Spanish,” Rivera said.
Rivera told WFXR News that the biggest step is talking about it.
“Normalizing it. Diabetes, the flu, the common cold, all those things are normal health conversations, but mental health is health,” Rivera said.