May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Read this month’s blog by Kevin Matta on his views on mental health and what it has meant for him.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month - A view by Kevin Matta

Being brought up in a Latin and religious family, the topic of mental health always felt and remains a bit taboo. And I recognize that this isn’t just for me, but for millions of other Latinx individuals, too.

In learning more about mental health awareness, I wanted to seek information related to the identity and culture of Latinx communities and why the barriers exist – was it just my family/household? The answer – no; it wasn’t just my home, but rather a widely spread impression that is rooted in barriers of access, insurance, language, faith, and stigma.

This brought me to thinking about why some of those barriers exist and what I have done for myself. As someone who has had many challenges in their lifetime, including sexuality, my family’s immigration status, and a speech and language impairment, to name a few, I realize I haven’t explored much mental health treatment because of the unconscious stigma that was perpetuated through my culture and upbringing.

Thinking back to phrases I grew up hearing as a child was always among them, “la ropa sucia se lava dentro de la casa” meaning, “dirty laundry is kept within the house.” When statements like this are tossed around so freely, I can’t help but to recognize my own barriers to mental health care as those statements create a pause for me when seeking the help of others and makes you question “is this something I can resolve myself, or do I need help?”

I look back to the telenovelas and the songs in Spanish that I grew up listening to and watching and began to recognize how they would instill a fear of being sent to “el manicomio” or the songs like “Dr. Psiquiatra” which was song by a back then rebellious rock singer who was seen as “mentally instable” and how those subtle moments instilled and reinforced fear and stigma in the thought of seeking mental health.

Fast forward to present day, and there is a push now more than ever for the need for mental health support in the Latinx community, however the barriers continue. In a report done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, they found that the barriers of language, poverty, and health insurance coverage, cultural competence, legal status, and stigma remain at the top for reasons why Latinx don’t seek care for their mental health. So where do we go from here?

In my opinion, I believe that within our organizations and structures, we can discuss more openly mental health awareness, the need for it and the support that our organizations provide. Although many companies promote the ease of taking a mental health day – how many of us take them? And what holds us back from doing so? It was till very recent in my career of 15+ years that I finally took a mental health day, because like the research shows, our bodies are constantly signaling to us the need for a break, but when we ignore the signs, we sometimes take the break a few moments to late and we lead ourselves to complete fatigue/failure.

A few steps I have taken to support my mental health care are:

  1. Speaking to a professional:  Realizing that even though I feel I can resolve things on my own, the opinion and guided advice of a professional helps to expand my thinking.
  2. Listening to my body and mind: What is the tape within me beginning to say? Is it telling me to push through and prove that I can do things? Or, is it gentle? Most likely it’s telling me to push and push harder – that’s when I realize, I can give myself a break, because if I don’t, who will?
  3. Stay active: I thoroughly enjoying running and exercising, and I do it not as punishment, but rather as enjoyment and time to think through and process thoughts. We are so attached to our devices that our minds are constantly receiving information we don’t allow ourselves a break to process.

I’d love to hear from you – what are you doing for your mental wellbeing? Do you share any similar lived experiences as me?

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