Take Care of You: Saving Your Mental Health


When is the last time you asked for help?

If you're like most Latinas, you probably can’t even remember. And believe it or not, that one little word, "help," can unlock the secret to your mental health.

"All women need support, but most of us Latinas need even more," says Dr. Karen Johnson, a native Panamanian who is the Associate Chair in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington Hospital Center. "Whether you’re first, second, even third-generation, the average Latina carries the weight of whatever stresses her family; it's how our culture is. Even if you're not a mom—you're a daughter, a sister, a niece—and you'll feel the brunt of the pressures."

The factors are different for all of us. Anxiety may stem from immigration struggles that keep family members apart. Other times we wrestle with the tug-of-war between our parents' traditions and our Americanized values. And sometimes it’s not even that deep—just the drama of life!

This is especially true for our young hermanas. Latinas ages 12 to 17 are the largest group of minority girls in the country, according to the United States Census Bureau. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 42 percent of high-school aged Latinas reported feeling sad or hopeless daily for more than two weeks. And the National Alliance on Mental Illness says one in five Latina teenagers in the United States has seriously considered or attempted suicide, a number higher than that for any other racial or ethnic group of the same age.

It's important to realize that you’re not alone. Stress, even depression, can affect anyone. It doesn’t make you weak or cursed with mal de ojo—prevalent misconceptions, says Judith Morales, a director at the Northern New Jersey Maternal, Child and Health Consortium, which treats and counsels Latinas on wellness. Talking to a health care provider is the best move when you’re feeling overwhelmed; but opening up to friends and family you trust can help, too. What you don’t want to do is keep it bottled up.

Here are some other tips for how you can stay mentally healthy:

  • Create priority time for yourself, away from obligations—even if you have to put it on your calendar so you remember. This should be a time when you do something that's just for you, whether it's pampering your self or doing a fun activity that you'll enjoy all alone! 
  • Give yourself "permission" to chill and be quiet. Sometimes a little quiet me-time is all you need.
  • Don’t cover your feelings with drugs, alcohol or other habits. It may feel like a quick fix; but in the long run this is a recipe for disaster.
  • Know that you need to care of yourself in order to be there for your family, says Dr. Johnson. This includes getting regular checkups and exercising to stay fit. When you’re healthy, you're better able to help your family stay healthy.
  • Evaluate relationships, says Morales. "If anyone in your life is possessive, demanding or selfish, we need to understand that’s unhealthy. We need to recognize healthy boundaries. Learn how to say 'no' and mean it." Most importantly, don't feel guilty about it.
  • Tune in to YOU. Don’t get so lost in the sauce you can't hear what your body and mind are telling you, says Dr. Johnson. Get your rest. Eat right and exercise. Most importantly, when you feel overwhelmed, slow down.