In The Community
The Latinx community is an extremely diverse group- in race, languages spoken, and country of origin. Latinx people have many intersecting identities, like identifying as LGBTQ+, belonging to different racial/ethnic identities (e.g., Afro-Latinxs), and diversity in immigration status or religious beliefs. They have unique mental health challenges that set them apart from other populations. Mental health issues, like serious mental illness, depression, suicide, and substance use, are steadily on the rise in Latinx communities.
My name is Dr. Camila Pulgar, and I am a researcher, therapist, and consultant in Winston Salem, North Carolina. I am also a research faculty at Wake University Forest School of Medicine, and I own a mental health awareness business called Salud Mental Health, where I bring mental health awareness materials and resources to our local Latinx community.
My clinical and research expertise is suicide and suicide prevention in the Latinx community. In addition to this being a topic of research for me, though, it’s also a very personal subject for me.
I am the oldest of four, and one of my younger brothers is a suicide attempt survivor. My brother was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in 2010 and attempted to take his life in 2015. It was an event that left our entire family in shock.
My family and I immigrated from Chile to North Carolina in 2004. In Chile, salud mental wasn’t something we spoke about, ever. It was entirely new to us, to me. When we heard things like depression, we thought, “What? ¿Qué?” As the oldest daughter and only woman, I felt the family pressure and responsibility to help my family navigate this situation. However, I quickly realized that I wasn't equipped to do so since I was young and didn't have the knowledge I have now.
All I knew was that I was terrified of losing my brother.
As recently arrived immigrants, navigating a foreign mental health system was a messy and frustrating process. During all of those years that my family needed support in our native language, we never received it. I think a lot of my motivation to become a therapist came from this experience with my brother.
That fear I felt is a very common feeling among family members with a suicidal loved one: fear of losing them, fear of not being able to be there for them, and overall fear of what suicidal thoughts and behaviors can lead to. I lived with that fear for a very long time. Helping my brother and family find mental health care, even though I didn't know what I know now, eventually paid off. My brother was able to find the care and guidance he needed.
You will often hear, know the signs of suicide. Although knowing the signs is key to supporting a loved one who is suicidal, it is also important to know that the signs look different in everyone. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, these are signs we must pay close attention to:
- Substance use problems
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality traits of aggression, mood changes and poor relationships
- Conduct disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Serious physical health conditions including pain
- Traumatic brain injury
- Access to lethal ways of dying, including firearms and drugs
- Prolonged stress, such as harassment, bullying, relationship problems, or unemployment
- Stressful life events, like rejection, divorce, financial crisis, or other life transitions or loss
- Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide
- Previous suicide attempts
- Family history of suicide
- Childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma
As in many immigrant Latinx families, acculturation-related stress affects all areas of life. We were adjusting to a new life in a new country and we were at a loss, we didn't know the mental health system. Acculturative stress has been linked to depression and suicide in Latinx immigrants. This combined with enviromental and biological risk factors of suicide puts Latinx individuals at a higher risk for suicide and suicidal behaviors.
Reflect on what this means for you and your family. Is there a pull to acculturate to the “American” culture? Is there conflict between family members when this happens? Do you feel pressured to avoid speaking Spanish? All of these conflicting experiences affect our mental health, putting us at higher risk for suicidal behaviors and thoughts.
With what I know now, I know there is hope. It’s ok to talk about depression, anxiety, trauma, and our fears. It is ok to not be ok, and it's ok to ask for help. There is help out there. Although, maybe, where you live, there might be a shortage of mental health providers who speak your native language, who look like you, or who “get it.” That’s why companies like mine are working to increase access to information and resources for our communities. With time, you can also have the treatment you need and that my brother eventually found and has helped him live a fulfilling life.
If you or a loved ones struggles with suicidal thoughts, all you need to do is call the national hotline number: 988. I would also recommend looking for a therapist in your area, and you can also reach out to me via my website for guidance.
Suicide is prevalent in our community, but it doesn’t have to paralyze us. I am glad you are here, and I am happy to offer resources that help you live a fulfilling life.
Camila Angelica Pulgar, Ph.D. LMCHC is a former member of both the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention-NC Chapter (AFSPNC) and the National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA).
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Last year, gymnast Simon Biles made headlines when she announced that she was retiring from the Olympics; this got many people talking about how she could have given up on something after working so hard for it, but it also opened a discussion on why it’s essential to know when to quit something for your own sake.
We’re often told that working hard should be a priority, and this thought is heavily perpetuated in Latino households, and with good reason. Immigrants and children of immigrants often have to overcome more obstacles than their white counterparts to achieve their goals, and many are trying to break generational economic instability to create a better future for themselves moving forward.
The burden of seeking security and safety in a system not built for feels daunting, but no matter what the circumstances are, if you don't put yourself as a priority in your life, nothing you achieve will ever be fulfilling because your mental and even physical health will always suffer from it. And what is the point of achieving success if you can't enjoy it?
Knowing when to leave something behind for your own good is just as important as achieving goals. As backward as it sounds, sometimes growth comes from knowing when to quit and when to change paths. So if you think you might be reaching a breaking point, here are some signs that you've burned yourself out, and that it’s time to take care of yourself:
Your Body is Telling You
Are you getting enough rest?Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash
Mental exhaustion can often manifest as physical exhaustion. Stress-related illnesses are way more common than they should be, and signs that you've exhausted yourself can be anything from headaches to insomnia. So listen to yourself and rest.
You've Lost Passion for your Work
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash
Not everyone has the privilege of having a job related to their passions, but burnout can be even easier to detect for those who do. When something that you were passionate about before becomes a tedious task that you almost have to force yourself to complete, it's probably time to move on. And this doesn't mean quitting your passion forever; sometimes you just need a break or a change of scenery, but whatever it is you need, forcing yourself to do something you don't want to will only make you resent it.
Your Work-Life Balance is Becoming Non-Existent
Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash
A job shouldn't be your whole life; it should only be a part of it. If you find yourself completely consumed by your work, to the point where your personal life is affected, there's something wrong. Burnout is unavoidable without a work-life balance and is essential to a healthy work environment. You should always be able to spend time with friends and family or simply do whatever you want in your free time, which is genuinely free.
You Feel Undervalued or UnfulfilledPhoto by Pavel Neznanov on Unsplash
If you often ask yourself, what am I even doing this for? And if you can't find an answer, it's probably time to reconsider your goals. Working hard will get you nowhere if you've lost sense of what your end goal is, and the thing is, it is normal for our end goals to change constantly. Just because you desperately wanted something before doesn't mean you can't change your mind. Once that mindset shift happens, we often try to convince ourselves to just power through it and keep going, but we could also use those feelings to ask ourselves, is this really what I want to be doing? Furthermore, you might feel like it isn't you that's the problem, but how those around you perceive your work, being upset because you feel undervalued, is perfectly reasonable and also calls for a goal realignment.
You're Not Yourself Anymore
Photo by Caique Nascimento on Unsplash
And living your best life is what you deserve. If the path to your goals has become a burden instead of a hard road, losing track of who you are and what you want to achieve is easy. But at the end of the day, your life is yours only, and if you don't make yourself a priority, who will?
So yes, hard work might be important, but it'll never be more important than your mental health, stability, and personal life. For more on how to take care of yourself, please visit our mental health and resources guide, and remember you are never alone.
Just a few months shy of the 10th anniversary of the deadliest mass school shooting at Sandyhook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is now the deadliest since then.
The NRA issued a statement using the oft-repeated “act of a lone, deranged criminal” phrase that Republicans and the gun lobby alike have repeatedly used to distance themselves from accountability to describe Salvador Ramos’ deadly actions and the actions of other mass shooters.
According to the Pew Research Center, gun ownership is primarily tied to protection as the motive for ownership with two-thirds of gun owners citing protection as the primary reason they own a gun. White men are the largest gun ownership, group.
Yet with the continued proliferation of guns, regulation of gun ownership hasn’t kept up.
The powerful lobbying group National Rifle Association made political contributions to 50 senators in their respective states, with the largest amounts going to prominent Republican senators such as Utah’s Mitt Romney and Florida’s Marco Rubio. Both senators have avidly taken anti-gun control positions while accepting millions of dollars in campaign donations. The trend continues with other Republican elected officials who have accepted NRA donations also taking anti-gun reform positions.
Mental Ilness Found Amongst Mass Murder Shooters
Gun lobbyists such as the NRA control a massive amount of political influence despite statistics getting worse for gun violence in the U.S. At the same time, research indicates that mental health illness was found amongst the majority of mass shooters who survived their deadly rampages. Researchers were able to study 35 shooters and found that 28 had a history of mental illness that wasn’t being treated at the time of the shooting.
With the NRA attempting to push the “lone deranged shooter” narrative, the converse of that would be improved mental health screening, treatment, and mental health checks before purchasing a weapon. In Texas, where Robb Elementary School is located, Governor Greg Abbot also blamed the shooting on “mental health” issues despite there being no evidence of that in this instance, and despite having just cut mental health funding by over 200 milion dollars.
Weapons manufacturers continue to benefit from the lack of regulation which makes it easier to continue selling guns. In many states, everyday things like purchasing allergy medicine, owning a car, or getting an abortion are significantly harder than buying a gun and thousands of rounds of ammo. But because it’s easy to scapegoat mental illness for every single mass shooting, actual solutions from funding mental health treatment to putting common-sense regulations in place for gun ownership remain elusive.
Limiting access to guns is just one of the many things public policymakers must do to reduce the gun violence epidemic gripping the nation. It’s clear that with mental illness playing a role in many mass shootings, funding the services needed for those who are at risk of acting on violent thoughts is another common-sense approach that’s needed.
A Nation and Community Mourns
Mass shootings having an adverse effect on the mental health for the victims’ families but also on the public at large. A growing number of people are citing mass shootings as a genuine societal fear. According to the Brady Report, “up to 95 percent of people exposed to mass shootings experience symptoms of PTSD in the early days after the incident, and most of those individuals feel the psychological effects of the trauma months later.”
An interdisciplinary approach is needed to solve this problem: common-sense regulation of gun buying and ownership, holding our elected officials responsible for inaction, and providing access to mental health resources for everyone. Until then data convincingly tells us that we’re not waiting for the possibility of another mass shooting, we’re waiting for the inevitble next one.
If you are in need of mental health support, visit the Luz mental health and trauma support page for easy to reach resources.