“We don’t talk about it. It didn’t exist basically. There was a lot of ‘Stay away from that person’ or nobody never had a conversation, something as simple as anxiety,” said Victor Rivera, a behavioral health provider. “I have not met a single person in any race that does not have some anxiety. It is a completely normal thing that people experience. Never talk about it in the Hispanic community. It was never brought up.”
Rivera has been working as a behavioral health provider for 13 years. The native Puerto Rican said his family moved to Franklin County when he was 15 years old. Since then, Rivera has earned a degree in criminal justice at Ferrum College and worked in the probation and parole system until budget cuts cost him his job.
A friend reached out to Rivera and told him he’d be well suited for home mental health services, which led him to his current role and conversations with his family.
“The only reason my parents talked to me about it really is because of what I do. We see some of struggles that some families go through and things that start happening that they want to know more about. So that has been the way in my family that we bridged the conversation, but it’s still heavily stigmatized in the Hispanic community,” Rivera said.
Rivera blames the stigma on judgment by society.
“People that struggle with any mental illness were looked at as being ‘crazy.’ When all of your life, you hear of those type of struggles being categorized in that manner and for sure you are afraid to talk about it,” said Rivera. “Because you do not want to be looked at as in a certain way. You do not want to be vulnerable and then be judged for the things that you say while you’re vulnerable.”
According to Rivera, there are other stigmas when it comes to mental health problems in the Hispanic community, related to issues of race, culture and economics.
“Somebody that immigrates to a new country and probably experiences a certain amount of trauma in doing so — I have not met a single person in the Hispanic community that I do counseling with that doesn’t have PTSD. It is across the board, whether it is from coming here and being treated a certain way, whether it is the process of coming across to the United States,” added Rivera. “I have an individual that I see that tried to get here, he almost died, because there is no easy way to get here. He was trying to pursue better for his family. So you are taking emotional mental health damage along the way and you get here and you do not speak the language.”
Rivera said one key to helping the Hispanic community open up about their mental health problems is the development of trust with a counselor. He said having a counselor who is a Hispanic native can help build that trust.
“It is way better than having somebody that is a natural-born American, a Caucasian that learns Spanish. Counseling is a social interaction. It’s way better when you meet somebody that is a natural-born speaker of the language. I grew up speaking Spanish. We speak Spanish in my household still. I listen to music in Spanish. I am Hispanic,” said Rivera.
Rivera told WFXR that the biggest step is talking about it.
“Normalizing it. Diabetes, flu, colds, all of that stuff is normal health conversations, but mental health is health,” said Rivera.