HEALTH – October 2014

Breaking the stigma: Latinos in the US and depression

Everyone has days where they feel down or sad. Indeed, often when we say the word “depression” we refer to it as a part of human experience in the face of hardship. This is no different, and may even be accentuated, for the Latino Community in the US in whom daily anxiety and stress may be sometimes exacerbated by the process of immigration or acculturation.  Nevertheless, these mood disturbances often resolve in a few days and do not present any major problems afterwards.

In contrast, major depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by a number of symptoms including: anxiety, irritability, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, change in sleeping patterns, decreased energy, among others.  However, in order to be diagnosed, five of the symptoms that accompany this disorder must be present for most of the day nearly everyday for two weeks. Treatment options that have been shown to be beneficial in the management of this disorder include counseling services, psychotherapy or antidepressant medications.

Though it is not known yet, major depression is likely to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, biological and psychological factors. Depression is an illness of the brain that has been shown to affect areas of the brain related to mood, appetite, sleep and behavior. However, there is no current imaging test that can help in the diagnosis of it. This disorder seems to run in some families but can also arise spontaneously in someone who has no history of depression. Furthermore, trauma, loss of a loved one, chronic illness or intense stress and anxiety are known to trigger major depressive episodes.

While the Latino population in the US is a heterogeneous mixture of people from different countries, in general, Latinos from all origins are less willing to seek out professional help to treat mental disorders including major depression. Instead, many rely on religious advisors or family to treat such conditions. There are many factors that contribute to this trend. For instance some Latinos are afraid of being stigmatized or called “crazy” due to the diagnosis of a mental disorder. In other cases language barriers and economic difficulties prove to be a formidable obstacle that limits the access of Latinos to mental health care. In addition, some are reluctant to seek treatment because they are afraid that physicians will devalue the resources they have to manage depression.

Nonetheless, if left untreated, major depressive disorder can seriously interfere with the life of the person afflicted. Not only can this disorder affect the normal functionality of individuals by decreasing their productivity and overall physical well being, it can also lead to other co-morbidities such as anxiety disorder or drug or alcohol abuse disorder. Therefore, if you or someone you know is showing signs of being affected by major depression contact a family physician that can then advise, medicate or, if necessary, refer to a mental health professional.


Dawling A. Dionisio-Santos is a student of Dominican descent born in Puerto Rico. He studied Molecular Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. Dawling is a second year medical student and co-president of the Latino Student Medical Association at the University of Rochester (LMSA) which is a national organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for the health needs of the Latino community. LMSA members, including Dawling, are looking forward to continuing to contribute to CNY Latino and raising awareness regarding the many health issues affecting the Latinos of Central NY and beyond. Anyone whishing to comment or ask any questions about the topic in this article send an email to

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