National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated every year from September 15 to October 15 for recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the history, culture, and achievements in the United States. This is a time to celebrate and honor heritage rooted in all Latin American countries. Historically, Hispanic Heritage Month began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968 to commemorate the anniversary of the independence of the following Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16th and September 18th, respectively. In 1988, the week was expanded to a month. Events are held annually all over the country to commemorate this month such as Latin Jazz festivals, film festivals, and events at the Smithsonian Institution.

First, what’s the difference between Hispanic and Latino?

Hispanic refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries that were once colonized by Spain. This includes Mexico, most of South and Central America, and Spanish speaking Caribbean.

Latino refers to all countries in Latin America including South America, Central America, Spanish-speaking Caribbean, Mexico and Brazil to create a shared cultural identity. Latinx is also used to expand upon Latino as a more inclusive, gender-neutral version of the term.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), there is a stigma associated with mental health in the Latino Community. Hispanic Heritage month is an opportunity to not only come together to celebrate Latino culture, but also one to shed light on some of the unique challenges that the Latino community faces when it comes to mental health. Latinos are a very diverse group with different experiences. However, many share the similar struggle of balancing their cultural heritage with the culture of the place they currently call home.

Here is what the data tells us about mental health in the Latino population:

  • While Latinos don’t have higher rates of mental health conditions than the general population, they are at greater risk for developing more chronic and persistent forms of depression, substance abuse and anxiety.
  • Studies suggest that American-born Latinos and those that have lived longer in the U.S. tend to show higher rates of mental health conditions than recent immigrants. This is called the immigrant paradox.
  • In 2011, suicide attempts for high school-aged Hispanic girls were 70% higher than white girls of the same age group.
  • According to a 2001 Surgeon General report, only 10% of Latinos with symptoms of a mental health condition contacted a mental health specialist.
  • The 2012 U.S. Census found that 29% of the Hispanic population was not covered by health insurance in comparison to 10.4% of the non-Hispanic white population, making Latinos the largest racial or ethnic group to lack health insurance

Taking these issues into account, it is important to remember how Latinos have enriched American society and how they can enrich their own lives both physically and emotionally. During this month it’s important to empower the Latino community and fight stigma. Let’s not only celebrate but also advocate for mental health awareness

Here are some resources that can help you, Latinos and non-Latinos, take action.

By, Amanda Navarra, MHC Intern