By Gabi Reynolds, Account Planner and Sandra Auren, Sr. Account Planner
Two weeks ago, on October 10th to be precise, we celebrated World Mental Health Day. In case you were wondering, this day was first celebrated in 1992, yet I have a feeling that not a lot of people knew it existed back then. Thanks to social media and platforms like Buzzfeed and The Mighty, the social conversation regarding the myths, the struggles, and what mental illness actually looks like is now more widespread.
In the U.S. we have gone from treating mental illness as taboo to actually demonizing it; once you start peeling away the multicultural layers that envelop our society, you start to notice that each culture deals with and thinks about mental illness in very different ways. Dealing with the stigma that mental illnesses carry in mainstream culture can be a bit scary, but if you are part of another culture, it can actually be terrifying.
Cultural Barriers for Hispanics with Mental Illness
Mental illnesses come in all shapes and sizes and the longevity of dealing with one can be as lengthy as coping with a chronic disease to as short as contracting a cold. For many people in the Hispanic community, personal issues are not something you broadcast to the world, so when it comes to dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and substance abuse, individuals are encouraged to just “try harder” to be normal. Some seek out religious guidance, folk medicine, or a friendly ear, but many suffer in silence because after all “la ropa sucia se lava en casa” (don’t air your dirty laundry in public.)
For those that do manage to make it all the way to the doctor’s office, they have a hard time “stomaching” the reality of prescription drugs as a cure. In the Hispanic community we are accustomed to seeing outgoing, “over-the-top” behavior, especially among women. So there is a fear that while medication may remedy a mental illness, an individual may lose their personality in turn. However, having a teacher or doctor encourage someone to take the necessary action to better their health can have an impact because it validates their feelings.
Another cultural practice involves oversimplification of behavioral patterns associated with mental illness by saying things such as: she’s just so dramatic; she’s always overreacting; all she wants is attention; all he needs is a girlfriend; he just loves to drink and is usually the life of every party; or she just loves too much.
Challenging the Stigma Around Mental Illness (Mitú)
The barriers are not just cultural, many Hispanics go through life without ever being diagnosed. According to the American Psychiatric Association, fewer than one in 11 Hispanics contact a mental health specialist and fewer than one in five contact a primary care doctor. This may be due to the lack of access to health care. As stated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Hispanics account for one-third of the total uninsured.” It is also worth noting that Hispanic students between grades 9-12 are at greater risk of attempting to commit suicide than their black and white peers. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 2015 Suicide Statistics, 18.9% of Hispanic students have seriously considered suicide, and 11.3% have attempted suicide.
The entertainment business has made strides towards raising awareness of unspoken/ undiagnosed mental illnesses. Celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, and even Prince Harry have been very outspoken about their own struggles, and have shared their experiences with their followers, but are these efforts reaching our Hispanic community? Are they inspiring, or even relevant to them? Will these actions be enough for someone who suspects an underlying issue to seek out the help they need? My gut feeling tells me that it’s not enough! So what can we do to help out?
5 Things Marketers Can Do to Normalize and Encourage Mental Health Care
-Break the Stigma. Avoid over-the-top, violent depictions of mental illness in TV programs, ads and movies. Telenovelas are notorious for perpetuating the stereotype that people suffering from a mental disease are dangerous, thus contributing to silencing those who need seek out professional counsel.
-Stop Shaming. People that struggle with mental illness know too well that the symptoms are real, so when they are told that what they feel is “exaggerated” or that they’re being “dramatic,” we delegitimize their illness and turn it into something they just need to overcome
-Use Influencers. Having culturally relevant and appropriate influencers to share their experience or struggles with mental illness in an authentic way can help them identify themselves with the influencer, and open up the door to share what they are currently going through and seek medical help.
-Encourage the Next Generation. More Hispanics are needed in the medical field to provide Hispanic patients with a level of comfort, as well as to bridge the cultural and language gaps that exist.
-Break the Stereotypes. Hispanics have the tendency to believe that illnesses such as depression and anxiety are more of a “White problem” when in fact, mental illnesses do not discriminate, they can affect us all regardless of age, race, or gender.
With the right messaging, we as marketers and advertisers can spark conversations and highlight the huge opportunity that exists. The call to action is loud and clear as the need to shift negative perceptions and provide culturally relevant mental health care within the Latino community is stronger than ever.
Dieste, Inc. (www.dieste.com) is a Dallas- and New York-based company with a mission to pioneer the future of how brands and cultures connect. Through our partnerships and the deployment of proprietary consumer data, algorithms and human cultural intel, combined with insightful creativity, we are able to sync brands with consumer subcultures and create successful outcomes for our clients. Dieste has won multiple Cannes Lions for their work and has been named Ad Age’s “A-list,” “Agency to Watch” and “Multicultural Agency of the Year” numerous times. Dieste is part of Omnicom’s (NYSE: OMC) DAS Global network.