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Breaking down intergenerational and cultural stigmas on mental health

Intergenerational and cultural stigmas on mental health create a large barrier to accessing behavioral healthcare among today’s youth. Intergenerational trauma is a term used to describe the impact of psychological distress through several generations. The intergenerational transmission of trauma is a possible result of stigma surrounding getting treatment for mental health concerns. This stigma stems from inaccurate or misleading media representations of mental illness such as stereotypes and prejudices that people with mental illness are dangerous, incompetent, or unpredictable. Additionally, those with mental illness face discrimination such as not getting hired or receiving worse health care. As a result, many people have negative attitudes and internalized shame about their own condition, and many others have a negative outlook on those with mental illness, decreasing the chances of receiving treatment. Consequently, around forty percent of people with mental illness do not receive treatment. This can lead to their kids inheriting a susceptibility to a mental illness as people who have a family member with a mental illness may be more likely to develop one themselves.

Moreover, stigma around mental illness is especially an issue in some ethnic communities. Underutilization of mental health care services is common among Asian Americans due to stigma that has resulted from cultural values of collectivity and filial piety as opposed to American values of independence. Other barriers include lack of adequate health insurance, limited linguistically accessible services, and distrust of the mental healthcare system. Stigma and discrimination often worsen symptoms and likeliness of receiving treatment and can lead to reduced hope, lower self-esteem, and difficulties with social relationships. In order to combat this issue, it is important that we take the time to educate ourselves about mental illness, educate others , challenge myths and stereotypes, give support to people, and find more ways to practice inclusion.

In some ways, our world has become more accepting of the diversity new generations largely embrace. On the other hand, an intersectional identity can often make seeking help within your community more difficult. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, “Culturally Competent Care” is vital in breaking down these barriers of inequity that have long restricted access to youth mental health resources. Long-standing racial discrimination, especially for Latinx, African-American, and Native American children in the healthcare system has made it difficult to break the stigma in the past. In fostering inclusive discussion, education, and helpful resources in communities of color in early stages of development, we can normalize and prioritize mental wellness for future generations. The cultural and generational stigmas around youth mental health and the disparity in our healthcare system have often made the conversation and seeking assistance difficult in communities of color.

Latinos account for over 67% of San Antonio’s population. Cultural stigmas are also prevalent in the Latino community, in part, because of the lack of general knowledge and resources to assist children in need of help. Some adults believe the new generation has not had to struggle as much as the previous ones, and in ways, this is true. However, generational trauma and new issues that have risen with our new society make life difficult for teens to handle, especially pertaining to mental wellness. Some of my peers who identify as Latin/x have shared experiences similar to those in the Black community. One said that because many adults in the Latinx community are not informed on mental wellness, some may jump to negative conclusions and label you when you do communicate your needs. Religious beliefs also play a big role in determining the views of adults.

In talking with HBCU alumna and newly graduated Physician Assistant Margaret Hazelton, who completed her primary care preceptorship rotation in adolescent medicine, older generations in the Black community often view mental illness as a weakness that can be “prayed away” and tend to look down upon younger generations who take medication or receive therapy. She says that in order to break this stigma, it would be helpful for people to tell their own stories to encourage the idea that “taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health”. Actions like introducing mental health support early on in life so that people would see it as they see regular doctor or dentist visits could also be beneficial. Finally, she firmly believes that “we need more uplifting and encouraging people in the Black community to talk about mental health and realize that taking care of it is more rewarding than you may think.”

Alyssa, TJ, Elisa 

Editor’s Note

The idea of youth voice takes on many forms, including sharing experiences and ideas with policy makers, which many of the young people of Our Tomorrow have done. 

However, young people’s experiences and ideas are abundant and we at Our Tomorrow and UP Partnership wanted to create a space for them to share their thoughts on current issues they face around mental wellness. This is a series of blogs that we will share monthly that highlight these experiences, thoughts and opinions. Thank you The Center for Young Minds and The Ecumenical Center for partnering with us for this initiative.

These thoughts and opinions do not expressly represent the thoughts of UP Partnership, its leadership team or board of directors.