Pandemic learning hardships in the Hispanic community sheds light on mental health

Published: May. 23, 2020 at 8:10 PM MDT
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Teaching and learning at home, has been a challenge for many families. However, imagine having to teach your children in a language you don't know. Or, being a child fearing not passing to the next grade because you simply don't understand.

"There's hurt feelings, people not getting along,” said licensed clinical social worker, Millie Gaitan Gonzalez. “People being unsatisfied and the emotional chaos at home could get worst every time."

"The struggles that I see with the families are, first they don't know the language and another big struggle is the internet,” said Maria Juarez, who is the lead migrant liaison for the Jerome School District. “Even though Chromebooks were available to students through the school, if they don't have internet then they aren't able to do their homework."

About 100 migrant families from Latin America immigrate to Jerome each year. Juarez says, these families sacrifice everything in their lives to give their children a better future.

"They don't understand the language but they're using google translate to translate all the emails the school is sending them. So, I've seen parents that are there, wanting their kids to have an education."

This language barrier issue only mirrors some of the challenges the Hispanic community faces, on an everyday basis. According to peer reviewed journal, Globalization and Health, first generation Latino immigrants, who are the parents of second generation Latino children, are at a higher risk for mental health disorders compared to the settled population.

"The adults may feel more isolated than the children because the children adapt and they're more resilient,” said Gaitan Gonzalez. “Even if they're not from here, if they were born in a different country, the children adapt they adapt really quickly. I think the grown-ups are the ones who more have that sensation of, I don't belong here.”

On the other hand, second generation Latino children can suffer with mental health conditions too. This is due to feeling like they don't belong in both the Hispanic culture and the American culture. That's according to licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Michael Whitehead, who researched the effects of parenting and Latino immigrants at Michigan State University for his dissertation.

"Second generation immigrants typically have a higher risk for mental health problems as a result of their identity split and the pressure they feel from both their parents and society. Identity development and identity formation actually leads to a lot of difficult problems for kids. If they're not sure who they are or where they fit-in in a culture, they will try to find a place where they fit in. Sometimes that could be in gangs, delinquency or substance abuse. Obviously anxiety and depression fall into those things."

However, professional help isn't always sought after, even though it might be needed. Latinos sometimes prefer the help of their own inner groups.

"The natural thing is to talk to my comadre, go talk to mom, grandma and get help from each other because we're more of a collective society. We help each other out. So, seeking help from a stranger is not natural," Gaitan Gonzalez said.

Even though there are hardships, there is hope when the whole family and community shows compassion.

"I would just encourage parents, teachers and other caregivers in that child's life, to offer compassion. Offer help, and allow the child to be able to find support in some way," said Dr. Whitehead.

"I would tell the people to not be afraid to look for help. I know it's hard but it’s okay, it just means that you want to get better and there is help for you and your kids,” said Gaitan. “You don't have to suffer and go through this all alone."

"I think it takes the student, the parent, the teachers and just the whole community to be able to work together to see these kids succeed," Juarez said.

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