We at PA Parent and Family Alliance want to make sure that a strong emphasis is put on diversity and inclusion. An article regarding the Hispanic parents and families of Pennsylvania was an important addition because they are an often underserved population when dealing with children's mental health. We sat down with Pennsylvania mother Isabella Gonzales, whose son began to show symptoms of behavioral health challenges in his late teens. Despite cultural pressure and the scariness of the language barrier she sought help for her son, who is now doing much better. We also spoke with our very own Outreach Assistant Elis Romero, of Philadelphia, who is working to alleviate the language barrier by finding much needed resources for Hispanic families across the state. Her lived experience has given her insight on how to make sure Hispanic parents feel welcomed into the conversation on social, emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, and how she has dealt with and overcome pressures within her own culture.
It wasn't until around 17 that Gonzales's son started to throw tantrums; breaking things and saying "crazy things". She later found out that her son was dealing with depression. It was quite the battle for her to get her son to go to therapy, although she knows that's what he needed. Multiple trips to crisis centers and E.R.s later her son was diagnosed with depression and because his mental health was made a priority by all involved he has made great strides overcoming his anger and dealing with his depression.
Gonzales grew up in a household where you just "whooped kids if they were bad, you never looked deeper into the problem to see if it was related to mental health". This is one point that Romero said is really important to keep in mind when working with Hispanic families. The culture many parents grew up in was one where if you had a problem you were told to "toughen up" and if you were not following the rules you were reprimanded. She went on to say the not only was mental health not talked about, it is seldom acknowledged as the root of a problem.
How did Gonzales find the strength to combat the cultural pressure of not talking about mental illness? First, she shared that the younger generation of Hispanic parents is "much more with the times and more understanding of mental health, much like the younger generation of Americans in general". Second, she had her son when she was 20 years old. She feels that this allowed her to relate to him differently than parents who have children at an older age. The biggest factor in her acceptance of exploring a mental health diagnosis for her son was her experience dealing with her fiancé who is a veteran. Her fiancé suffered from depression and PTSD after coming home from war. Seeing the challenges her XXX faced and the value of his treatment helped her recognize her son's symptoms so she was able to realize his behavior was more than just him being angry.
While Gonzales was able to see a need and get help for her child; our Outreach Assistant, Romero, weighed in saying it can be more difficult for other Hispanic families across the state. One major issue is the language barrier. Romero said, "any parent seeking help for their child is intimidated by the unknown. " If you can't describe your child's challenges and feel comfortable talking about your fears it's hard to connect with a therapist and participate in their treatment." She continued, "there is an added level of comfort and immense relief when the person you are working with speaks and understands your language and culture."
Having a Spanish speaker at your facility or organization is the first step toward heling Hispanic parents and families feel welcome but Romero had some other pieces of advice for mental health professionals when working with and making Hispanic families feel welcome, "make sure that you have literature in Spanish for them to read and understand." While this may seem obvious she went on to say that it is vital for this literature to be written in the right tone and be culturally responsive. Romero said some translations can come off very cold and don't make sense when they are directly translated. This can make things even more confusing for families. "Remember, families who come to your agency are often scared and worried about the wellbeing of their precious child. Times of stress, the introduction of new concepts and hard to understand medical terms can make the best reader misunderstand the information that is presented. This isn't the time to use complex language and big words. Have things written clearly and at a reading level that is easily accessible to a majority of the families."
PA Parent and Family Alliance has always put an emphasis on diversity and inclusion and we welcome families of all shapes, sizes, and races to the conversation. If you are a Hispanic parent that is considering seeking help for your child; your concerns and issues are valid and you deserve to get the help you need. If you are a mental health professional working to ensure Hispanic families feel comfortable, be sure you are able to communicate with them in the language they feel most comfortable with. Finally, make sure the literature you are providing has been translated clearly and thoughtfully into Spanish. Children benefit from parents who advocate for them and their mental health, and parents benefit from organizations that show them how.
**Names of family members have been changed**