Mental health stigma refers to the unfavorable attitudes and beliefs around mental health, often formed by a lack of knowledge that may make people reluctant to get treatment. Studies show disparities between the Latino community accessing mental health resources compared to other ethnicities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “more than half of Hispanic young adults ages 18-25 with serious mental illness may not receive treatment, and only 35.1% of Hispanic/Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 46.2%.” At El Futuro, we have broken down barriers to care in the Latino community by providing culturally effective treatments. Breaking down the mental health stigma in the Latino community may help increase the number of people receiving treatment and improve their mental health condition instead of worsening it. Using evidence-based interventions, such as education and culturally sensitive practices, with culturally competent mental health providers who deliver culturally sensitive interventions can assist in overcoming these barriers. (Ahad et al., 2023).

At El Futuro, we have mental health providers who are not only Spanish-speaking, but many are of the same Latino culture. Having culturally competent providers familiar with culture-bound illnesses can help increase rapport and client outcomes. Examples of culture-bound mental health conditions for the Latine community include ‘nervios, ataque de nervios, susto, coraje, and fatalismo.’ Nervios is similar to depression, ataque de nervios is similar to a panic attack, susto to shock, coraje to anger, and fatalismo is fatalism. Moreira et al. (2018) explain the following:

Susto (fright) is defined as a condition of intense emotion felt after experiencing a traumatic event, such as a car accident or the death of a child, that—according to tradition—makes the soul leave the body.” Acknowledging these terms and the client’s explanation of their symptoms, including their cultural way of healing them, may increase their willingness to participate in the mental health resources and treatment offered. Using the terms they may be familiar with can also reduce the mental health stigma or fear of being considered ‘crazy.’

Along with culturally competent care, education has also proven to help overcome mental health stigma. Education regarding the nature of mental health disorders and their symptoms may increase the willingness to seek and receive treatment. By educating the public about “baby blues,” the mental health stigma against postpartum depression has been diminished. An increasing number of mothers are willing to receive treatment in cognitive behavior therapy and medication for the baby blues because this is now more accepted and less taboo than other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. By reducing the stigma against schizophrenia and other mental health conditions, perhaps more individuals would seek treatment. In the Latino community, education regarding medication can reduce the common concerns of dependency, addiction, and overmedication and increase confidence and treatment adherence.

At El Futuro, we have made a welcoming and culturally appropriate space for Latinos to receive mental health services. Breaking the stigma and receiving mental health services has many benefits, including improved overall health and quality of life. At El Futuro, we acknowledge the client’s beliefs and practices and integrate the mental health practices already established in the Latino culture, such as getting together in our community space para sanar juntos (to heal together).

Ahad, A. A., Sanchez-Gonzalez, M., & Junquera, P. (2023). Understanding and Addressing Mental Health Stigma Across Cultures for Improving Psychiatric Care: A Narrative Review. Cureus, 15(5), e39549. 

Hispanic/Latinx. National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Moreira, T., Hernandez, D. C., Scott, C. W., Murillo, R., Vaughan, E. M., & Johnston, C. A. (2018). Susto, Coraje, y Fatalismo: Cultural-Bound Beliefs and the Treatment of Diabetes Among Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Hispanics. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 12(1), 30–33. 

Article written by Candy Moreira BSN RN