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How one Latina therapist went from almost quitting therapy to helping Latinos overcome mental health stigma

Insider
Insider
 2021-10-12
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Adriana Alejandre founded Latinx Therapy in 2018. Courtesy of Adriana Alejandre
  • Adriana Alejandre created Latinx Therapy, a podcast and coalition of Latino therapists, in 2018.
  • She wants to address the cultural and financial issues that prevent Latinos from accessing help.
  • Stigma against mental health is prevalent in Latino communities, but that's slowly shifting.

Adriana Alejandre didn't make it past three sessions before she quit attending therapy out of guilt.

"All I kept hearing was my mother's voice telling me we're not supposed to talk about anything outside the family," Alejandre told Insider. "She always said 'if there's a problem, we fix it in the home.'"

So how did Alejandre go from rejecting therapy to becoming the founder of Latinx Therapy, a national coalition of mental health providers and a podcast that discusses mental health topics in Latino communities?

Though Alejandre said she was unable to reject the shame of seeking outside help, she enjoyed "the feeling of talking and having the focus on healing, instead of suppressing my emotions."

Then a sophomore in college and a new mother, Alejandre, now 31, said she was "really depressed" and struggling with postpartum depression.

While she was used to excelling academically, the Guatemalan-Mexican therapist was failing her college courses.

"I was always an A+ student, but when I got pregnant, that changed. I was in survival mode," Alejandre said. "I was also alone and away from my family and we were having problems because they were upset that I had gotten pregnant."

As she walked away from therapy, however, she was instilled with a new-found sense of purpose and decided to become a psychology major so that she might better educate Latino communities dealing with the stigma of mental health struggles and lack of accessible care.

"I knew that my community had a lot of trauma, because everything I had known was trauma," Alejandre said.

The stigma of mental health struggles is entrenched in Latino communities

Latinos face numerous barriers to accessing mental health care, including lack of health insurance. Among all racial and ethnic groups, they are the least likely to be insured, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Latinos are not only up against economic obstacles; they also encounter social and cultural barriers that prevent them from accessing the help they need, including stigma against mental health issues.

A 2017 survey revealed that nearly 70% of Hispanic respondents believe that depression and/or anxiety is caused by a "personal weakness or failing."

Language barriers also prevent some Latinos from accessing the help they need, according to Maxine Henry, the associate director of the National Latino Behavioral Health Association, an organization that aims to influence behavioral health policy.

"Bilingual and bicultural therapy works, but there's not nearly enough of it, nor are there enough Latino practitioners," Henry told Insider.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), only about 8,000, or 7%, of therapists in the US were Latino in 2019, despite the fact that Hispanics make up 18% of the country's population.

Even fewer of these therapists offer Spanish-language services; per a 2015 APA survey, only around 6% of therapists of any race or ethnicity provided sessions in Spanish.

Alejandre grew aware of the dearth of Latino practitioners after opening up her own practice in 2017.

Her practice was in a predominantly white and affluent area in Los Angeles, but low-income communities of color who lived across the freeway sought her bilingual services.

"I didn't think it was fair to hold a waitlist for a bilingual, trained professional, so in 2017, I created a Facebook group to see who else in the area provided similar services," Alejandre said.

That Facebook group became the foundation for Latinx Therapy, which Alejandre launched in 2018. Since then, the organization has been providing a directory of Latinx therapists and bilingual mental health resources for Latinos, including non-clinical support groups.

Alejandre hosts a podcast of the name, which tackles topics like being the translator in your family, substance abuse among Latinos, and navigating therapy alongside religion.

"When I was working with clients, I found that there weren't many bilingual media resources I could point them towards that were relevant and not full of clinical jargon," Alejandre said. "So I decided to launch Latinx Therapy because I wanted something culturally attuned."

The pandemic has exacerbated mental health struggles among Latinos

The pandemic has taken a physical and emotional toll on Latino communities.

According to the CDC, Latinos are nearly twice more likely to contract and die from COVID-19 than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

Latinos have also experienced disproportionate economic setbacks during the pandemic, accounting for 23% of initial job loss, per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Latinos were already facing behavioral health challenges before the pandemic but the pandemic made them worse," Henry told Insider, noting that opioid and other substance use among Latinos increased during the pandemic. "The loss of jobs, the shame and stigma, the isolation. It's kind of like an onion where the more you pull back, the more inequalities you see."

Telehealth , which grew in prominence during the pandemic, didn't necessarily make mental health care more accessible, Henry added, since many low income Latinos didn't have access to the Internet at home.

While the issues preventing Latinos from accessing mental health care are immense, Latinx Therapy demystifies what therapy is and how to access it.

"I didn't think therapy was for people like me, but it liberated me and I want others to have access to that same healing," Alejandre said, emphasizing that while this pandemic has harmed Latinos, it has also provided an opportunity for destigmatizing and educating Latinos on mental illness and trauma.

"Within the community, folks that have previously stigmatized therapy because of this mental health crisis have actually sought out mental health treatment for themselves or someone else, which is a very positive thing," Alejandre said.

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