Spanish-only mental health campaign misses the mark for a lot of young Latinos

LatinaLista — There’s only one thing wrong with the current national mental health campaign targeting Latinos launched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and The Advertising Council — it’s only in Spanish.

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For some reason, there is the perception that all Latinos speak, understand and write Spanish. While recent polls reveal that most young Latinos are bilingual to some degree, the vast majority (85%) are more fluent in English.

Translation: If a friend tells you that they have a mental health problem, you have two options: Accept it or Ignore it.

And that simple fact makes it such a shame that such an important campaign should only be in Spanish. Mental health issues in the Latino community are a problem.

According to SAMHSA, from 2004 to 2007, an average of 15.6 percent of Hispanic/Latino 18-25 year olds reported serious psychological distress in the past year. Despite the high prevalence among this group, only slightly more than one in four (28.3 percent) of Hispanic/Latino young adults with serious psychological distress received care within the past 12 months. Overall the rates at which racial and ethnic minority young adults seek treatment are much lower than their Caucasian counterparts.

The campaign Aceptar/Ignorar (Accept/Ignore) aims to elevate awareness for mental health issues and remove the stigma most often associated with it.

The campaign does link to the SAMHSA’s site “What a Difference a Friend Makes” that provides extensive information about the different mental health illnesses, tools to make recovery easier and forums where young people afflicted with mental health issues can just be themselves and share their experiences.

This particular site is in English, yet, those images and PSAs that are culturally relevant to Latinos remain in Spanish. While it can be argued that English-speaking Latinos can certainly go to the English-language sites and get the same information, the problem is that the images they see are of people who don’t look like themselves.

In turn, it makes it harder to connect with an issue that appears to only affect “other” groups of people and makes it easier to say “We don’t have that problem.”

As the Latino population grows, it’s imperative that campaigns such as these, which are vitally important, don’t segregate the Latino population into who can and who can’t speak Spanish.

Regardless of language, most Latinos share the same predisposition to develop the same illnesses and any campaign that wants to raise awareness for those illnesses and address cultural attitudes towards them needs to be bilingual.

Not every Latino may be bilingual but everyone is bicultural and deserves to be recognized as such.

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