“Just be happy” — Hispanic students dealing with depression and anxiety often have to do it alone


Viviana Rivera

Junior Andoe Glaser and senior Maria Algeria, both of Hispanic descent, are overwhelmed with the heavy work load they have to get done as the end of the second semester approaches. Hispanic students face challenges if they experience depression or anxiety.

How does one go about self-diagnosing depression or anxiety? Students are frequently advised to talk to someone and get help if they need it, yet these mental illnesses are frequently misrepresented as sadness. This can have a huge or minor impact on your life and has to be taken very seriously. 

Before talking about how to get through depression and anxiety, we first have to understand what it is. Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious condition that adversely affects your feelings, way of thinking, and behavior. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. These definitions do not mean that everyone has the same experience. Depression and anxiety can manifest themselves in many ways and sometimes you can’t even see it. This is something that some Hispanic families are unaware of.

In Hispanic culture, mental health isn’t really talked about often. 

“I have not been diagnosed with either depression or anxiety by a psychologist or anything like that. There are times when I do feel sad and I can’t really talk about it in my house because my parents don’t understand what it is. Yes, I guess I can try to explain what it is but, to be honest, I’m not even sure I know what it is fully. I feel like now depression and anxiety are something that everyone has in some way or another. It’s almost like it’s weird if you say you don’t have it,” said senior Luis Palacios. 

Students are prone to mental illness. Hispanic students don’t realize most of the time that what they are going through can be anxiety or depression because older generations don’t believe in it. 

“Depression and anxiety are usually faced with the stupidest responses like ‘Don’t think like that,’ ‘Just be happy,’ or even judgment like ‘Why would you think that?’ It doesn’t help to hear those things because it’s not like I’m choosing to feel this way. I know things can be done to help these negative emotions but when dealing with them you do not feel like you have control over them. Depression doesn’t have a fixed cause. It can be caused by a variety of factors. Whether you feel like it’s major or minor, you should always speak to a professional to get the proper help,” said Senior Rebecca Gonzalez. 

“I am a very anxious person. Me working in mental health I still didn’t realize how bad my anxiety was until like maybe a couple of years ago two or three years ago cause I always assumed that because I know what to do when someone has a panic attack I could essentially feel a panic attack or an anxiety attack coming and I knew what to do to calm down. I remember I had a conversation with a therapist and she was asking me to explain what it feels like. I told her and she was like no-no that is a panic attack you’re not preventing it you’re experiencing it. So I am a very anxious person but I think because I’ve always grown up in a background where it’s like there are no excuses like you just either do or you don’t. I was working hard all the time that I felt like that was a normal feeling. I always felt like I was on the go or that I needed to do something or that I was forgetting something. I thought that was normal because that’s just the culture I came from. I think learning about what it looks like and what it feels like when you have anxiety allows me to be like ‘Oh this isn’t normal, let me see how I can make it better’ to make myself more efficient, because I still don’t know how to let go of the not being efficient part. Like I still want to be able to do all these things. I just need to be more mindful like ‘Hey if you get headaches more often that probably means you need to slow down,’” said MCHS counselor Ms. Montes. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “More than half of Hispanic young adults ages 18-25 with serious mental illness may not receive treatment. This inequality puts these communities at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions because, without treatment, mental health conditions often worsen.”

“I think a lot of Hispanic young adults do not receive treatment when it’s needed because in a Hispanic households, often the belief that you can just get over things is very strong and that you are just being weak. They don’t believe that you can have anxiety, that you can have depression. Sometimes that term does not exist in the Hispanic household because it’s not how they were raised. It’s not accepted often because these beliefs come from a generation where it’s not something that they believe in their households. Lots of our young Hispanics are not receiving treatment. The older generation’s beliefs really discourage young adults to seek help so instead, they just push it down and leave it inside and just try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately that is what happens oftentimes and with that, you can see conditions worsen and that’s really sad because if someone would’ve just asked for help maybe they could’ve gotten the support that they needed early on,” said MCHS counselor Mrs. Quinonez

Mental illness is so common that students are unaware that the longer they wait for help, the more difficult it can be. This can lead the conditions to worsen.

“I do believe I suffer from anxiety but have never gotten a proper diagnosis. I guess anxiety is never a topic that really comes up during small talk or anything like that so I’m not sure if anyone I know is affected by it. Anxiety, just like depression, can have a variety of causes. For many, it’s an overwhelming amount of worry. Always feeling like something is going to go wrong, people are judging your every move,” said senior Rebecca Gonzalez. 

In Hispanic families, students and parents do not always fully understand each other due to language barriers. 

According to NAMI, “Language barriers can make communicating with providers difficult, or even impossible, particularly when a person is seeking counseling for sensitive or uniquely personal issues. These topics can be difficult for anyone to put into words, but it is especially difficult for those who may not speak the same language as a potential provider.” 

“I feel like it’s hard for me to talk to my parents when I am going through something. I am someone that doesn’t know how to talk about my feelings. Now telling my parents in Spanish is even harder because I don’t want to stutter but sometimes I simply just don’t know what the word I am trying to say is in Spanish. This makes talking to them harder so most of the time so, I prefer not to do it,” said senior Jennifer Gonzalez. 

Studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on our lives. According to the CDC, “Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming, and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely. This can increase stress and anxiety.” 

Senior Saul Nocelotl said, “I’ve never really been an anxious person. Ever since the pandemic I felt like coming back to school was going to be weird because I was so used to waking up like 10 minutes before I had to log into class. I do get anxious now because a lot of things go through my mind when I am at school. I notice myself fidgeting a lot now; I don’t know why but it’s weird because I never did that before. I get distracted a lot more in class thinking about all the work I have to get done for my college classes and don’t pay attention in the class I’m in which later sets me back. It’s like a stressful cycle I go through now. I don’t like it and I don’t know what to do about it. I feel like I can’t talk about it with my friends because they might be like we all go through it; just figure it out. I can’t talk to my parents either because they don’t understand what it’s like to go to high school while taking college classes.”

This pandemic certainly affected the mental health of students, and sometimes students are not even aware of it. It’s almost as if it’s normal to experience anxiety and depression without treatment. This makes it more difficult to talk to someone about it. 

According to the Pew Research Center, “The coronavirus outbreak has significantly harmed the finances of U.S. Hispanics. As the nation’s economy contracted at a record rate in recent months, the group’s unemployment rate rose sharply. As the United States locked down amid COVID-19, the unemployment rate for Hispanics increased from 4.8% in February to a peak of 18.5% in April before dropping to 14.5% in June, non seasonally adjusted. This exceeds levels from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, when the unemployment rate peaked at 13.9% in January 2010.”

Poverty can certainly be another reason why students do not reach out for help and seek the resources they need.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Hispanic people experienced the largest percentage point decline in their uninsured rate over the period, which fell 32.6% to 19.1%.”

People living in poverty are at increased risk of developing mental illness, and conversely, people with mental illness are at increased risk of living in poverty.

“I think that people who live in poverty are at higher risk of developing mental illnesses because they don’t have access to the resources that they need. We are talking about basic needs like food, water, and shelter. if you don’t have your basic needs it is very hard for you to just function overall. This can lead to depression, stress, and anxiety because you don’t know how you are going to pay bills, how you are going to get food on the table and people sometimes don’t know where helpful resources are.  I believe people with mental illness are at increased risk of living in poverty if they are not getting the support they need. If they are not getting help it can lead to them living in poverty because they need to address their mental health so they can be successful at a job or at college. If their mental health isn’t addressed it can be very hard and someone can give up and say ‘you know what I’m done’ and they give up so if they are not getting support for their mental health it can be very hard for them to be successful and it can even lead to poverty,” said  Quinonez. 

Anxiety and depression can be caused by many different things. These illnesses are not going to look or feel the same for everyone. Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.