Asian & Latinx Therapists discuss Collective Trauma, Immigration, and Mental Health within their communities.
My dad would say, “If you have problems, talk to me. You don’t need to see a therapist.” That’s pretty common in immigrant communities, that all the problems stay in the house – don’t air your dirty laundry.
In both Asian & Latinx communities, mental health can still be a heavily stigmatized topic. According to a 2015 report by SAMHSA, Asian and Hispanic/Latinx people were consistently the 2 lowest groups to access any mental health services1. There is not only significant stigma within these communities in regards to mental health, but also, there are significant barriers to accessing services, resulting in these communities remaining underserved.
In honor of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, we invited our therapists to share their stories growing up within their communities, and now giving back and serving their communities as mental health professionals. It is so important and so meaningful that we are able to serve our own communities because we are able to appreciate our strengths and our inherent resilience amidst the stories of hardship and trauma.
A common theme that emerged in our conversation was the minimizing and normalizing of the different types of trauma that happens in each community. “For them, [trauma] means something way worse… that really disconnects them from feeling how much it hurts,” Angelica Sun shares. “I see that in my own family too – ‘everybody goes through this…’ people who do talk about it get labeled as weak, or that there’s something wrong with you. You’re not playing your part in the family, you’re not being strong enough to support everybody else.” While this minimizing can feel very dismissing, it is the way that many of our grandparents and parents learned to survive in immensely difficult circumstances.
Another theme that emerged is the unique yet shared experience of growing up as an immigrant or with immigrant parents. Oftentimes, it is a scary, uncomfortable experience for both the parents (who moved to another country where they did not know the dominant culture or language) and the children (who are also learning how to interact with society).
I think one of the biggest differences I recognize [as an immigrant] is the level of safety – how safe do I feel here? I remember almost having a panic attack, because I didn’t know what the right social norm was to talk to my neighbor… I didn’t know how to be.
This lack of safety can lead to many children, especially American-born children, inadvertently becoming a provider of that safety for their immigrant parents. This dynamic can make a parent dependent on their child, and put their child in a role where they are taking on responsibilities that are beyond what their peers take on. Our therapists Connie Yang & Daisy Jessick shared that they both have had to act as translators and mediators for their parents, helping them navigate American society and coaching them to find more independence even as they grew with them.
“I had a client whose father passed away, and the doctors told her first. She had to relay that message to her [non-English speaking] mom. It was horrible hearing this, working through her trauma and that this was part of her narrative.”
Narratives like this one are not uncommon amongst Asian and Latinx families. Many have had to reckon with themes of responsibility, and with the differences between their collectivist, family-focused cultures and the individualist, independence-based American culture.
To hear more about these shared themes and experiences, listen below!
Instagram TV: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CU_SWXulSWo/
1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use among Adults. HHS Publication No. SMA-15-4906. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015.