Step One In Managing Your Mental Health Is Finding Someone (Or Being Someone) Who Believes You Have Room To Learn
I was 21 the first time I met with a therapist who I felt I could relate to. She stood at 5 foot 5 inches, not much taller than I am, and with ease understood the layers of my Latinx family and the realities I was forced to navigate because she’d grown up in it too.
When I mentioned that I was in the thick of legally becoming one of my grandmother’s primary caretakers — my therapist didn’t bat an eye. When I explained that my mom had died when I was 10 years old, that my grandmother had taken on legal guardianship of me, and that I’d grown up partly teaching the adults around me how to raise me, she understood without judgement.
As I walked her through the two months that led up to our first appointment and how my grandmother had gone from an 85-year-old woman who was only partly dependent on me to a woman who was wholly dependent upon me, or really anyone who could feed her and clean her, my therapist understood that my anxiety wasn’t just rooted in my want to graduate with good grades, it was made up of layers of my culture.
Since that first meeting, we’ve met once a week for five years. Over forty-five minute sessions, she’s helped me through everything from my grandmother’s death, which happened just two months after our first appointment, to the escalation of my career as a mental health advocate.
My desire to advocate for more open conversations around grief and mental health are sparked by my own experiences. My losses led to the creation of toodamnyoung.com, a resource for young adults who are grieving. Navigating my anxiety and depression on a daily basis inspired my writing and my Instagram presence.
The facts propelled my desire to ensure that more and more people — especially Latinos — have a safer space to talk about really hard things. Because sometimes it’s the people in those spaces, or in those trenches with you, who will be the only ones to believe you’re actually struggling. And sometimes you need someone to believe you’re hurting, so you can give yourself permission to shift your energy from having to convince them and towards finding ways to help yourself.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 individuals is affected by a mental illness. Studies have found that less than 10% of Latinos with symptoms of a mental illness will ever contact a mental health professional.
How often are words like “nervios” or it’s all in your “cabeza” thrown around when we bring up anxiety or mental health issues around our families?
During my lowest point, right after my grandmother’s death and my college graduation, my therapist was the only person who truly saw the deep hole I was working to fight myself out of because she was the only person who truly saw that I didn’t have the right tools to handle my mental health then.
A lot of my life as I see it right now isn’t how I mapped it out when someone would ask, “who do you want to be in five years?” — it’s so much better.
I’m still in therapy weekly and I’m committed to managing my mental health just as much on good days as I am on harder ones. None of the stressors in my life have changed over five years, what has changed is my ability to handle them.
As Latinos, we’re raised with a groupthink mindset. We move forward with the family unit, or we don’t move forward at all. That’s a hard reality to sign up for when you may believe in a better tomorrow for how you cope with mental stressors, and maybe someone in your family doesn’t.
My family still doesn’t understand why I invest in therapy once a week and if we’re honest they maybe never will. Over time, though they have learned to respect it enough to not challenge it.
I know it’s not easy in the beginning, but if Mental Health Awareness Month gives you permission for anything, let it be to choose the healthy decision that makes the most sense for you and that helps you add someone in your corner who acknowledges both the hole you’re climbing out of and your ability to do so.