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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Eating Disorders: Latin@s At Risk

About ten percent of Americans struggle with eating disorders – that’s true across every ethnicity. But in the Latino community, eating disorders often go under-reported and undiagnosed. There’s evidence to suggest that being multicultural makes Latinos particularly susceptible.

It can be hard for any parent to recognize the signs of an eating disorder, and awareness tends to be particularly low among immigrants and people of color.

Anahi Ortega was 12 when she started developing an eating disorder. A year and a half later, her parents started to suspect something was wrong, “The first clues were weight and my social life and behavior really changed.”

Corazon Tierra recovered from an eating disorder 20 years ago. “My mom was always on a diet to lose weight,” says Tierra, “at a very early age I became very concerned about my weight and by the time I was a teenager, my eating disorder was already in full force.”




Sometimes it’s easier for Latino families to acknowledge the issues as a physical problem rather than a mental one.

“My mom would try to feed me home remedies to open my appetite,” says Tierra, “but I refused to do that, I refused to take any home remedies or anything like that.”

But going to the doctor sometimes comes with its own challenges.

“They concluded that I had an eating disorder and brought my parents in to talk to them,” says Ortega, “but it was a little hard because they didn’t speak English and I was the translator and so I was able to share what I wanted.”

There are cultural barriers to seeking help, like the costs of pursuing treatment and the general stigma of mental health treatment. Add to that the pressure of constantly straddling two cultures.




“We are supposed to look very skinny and very beautiful and in shape but we’re also supposed to be eating and enjoying food with our loved ones,” says Tierra, “so there’s a double message that is very tense and it creates disruption.”

Dr. Ioana Boie is a psychotherapist at the Prosperity Eating Disorders and Wellness Center. “Someone who grew up in a Latino community where the standards of appearance are related to having a curvier body type, and then goes to a school into a primarily caucasian institution and standards of appearance and eating habits and eating norms are all different and these are all pressures that will put somebody at an increased risk.”

When food is so closely tied with family life, it can take on a whole other meaning. That is to say, eating disorders are never completely about food.

“In my experience the eating disorder started as anorexia but it was hard to maintain because food is such an important part of my culture and it’s always being presented and pushed,” says Ortega.

“I think you receive two types of messages,” says Dr. Boie, “you receive messages that food is fun and celebration and eat eat eat … but when you step out of that culture you’re supposed to be thin now.”








To get help, Latinos first have to overcome the stigma of getting help.

“I think admitting it within our family will have to force other family members to acknowledge that issue as well,” says Ortega, “we couldn’t do that because we wanted to keep our family in the perfect appearance.”

Because eating disorders are not talked about, many Latinos think they’re rare. Almost half of all Americans personally know somebody with an eating disorder.

“An eating disorder is primarily believed to be a white middle class, or upper class women’s issue,” says Dr. Boie, “that puts Latinos and Latinas at risk for minimizing the fact that they have eating disorder.”

Men are over 10 percent of those with an eating disorder.

“There further is the belief that this is not a serious problem, it is something that will pass,” says Tierra.

But eating disorders never just go away, they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Unlike a purely physical illness, patients can’t recover unless they choose to let go their old habits, which can be really scary.




They need to rely on the people around them for support, even when those people don’t really understand what they’re going through.”

“I had to say ‘it’s not okay when you say que estoy gorda,'” says Ortega, “at times I had to step out of the house and say ‘I have to leave because I don’t feel safe and I don’t feel comfortable with how you’re treating me,”

“It was a messy process really, it wasn’t harmoniously done, but it was done,” says Tierra, “now they know what to say and how to say it and they know how to support me in a better way.”

Even the word for eating disorders in Spanish – trastorno alimentario- is scary. It means something like a mental hurricane. Recovery is a hard road, but with hard work comes hope.

“I had the genes and I had the environment that just triggered the eating disorder at a young age,” says Ortega, “after 10 years I was finally able to find recovery.”

“I have been free of eating disorders for almost 20 years now and I always say that I’m not only recovered, I am healed, because I never went back to that behavior,” says Tierra, “I never felt the need to go back to that behavior.”

Not just recovery, but healing.


If you or somebody you know is struggling with an eating disorder contact the National Eating Disorders Association. You may reach their Helpline at (800) 931-2237..







Photo by Flickr User Zachary Locks

Breastfeeding While Latina

Latinas lead the pack when it comes to breastfeeding their babies at birth – more than 80 percent of Latina moms do. More Latinas nurse their children at 12 months than any other ethnic group in the country. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about breastfeeding, and a lot of pressure to get it “right” – whatever that means.




Yuliana Delgado really felt this pressure. She had read all of the parenting books, but one thing wasn’t according to plan. “I was pumping every 2 – 3 hours, I would get up through the night and pump,” says Delgado, “I was drinking maltas like you wouldn’t believe to try to increase the production and nothing was working.

After struggling for 2 months, she made a decision. “I realized I had to start supplementing not only for my baby’s sake, but I was wreck,” says Delgado.




Luisa Colón was dealing with a completely different breastfeeding problem. She lived in a large Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn. She says the Latinas around her were shocked that she was still nursing her 20 month old. “It was this moment of “you’re still breastfeeding?” says Colón, “I think the expectation was that that’s what you do early on, you supplement with formula, you move on to formula, the breastfeeding gets left behind.”

Colón felt like she had to defend her personal choice to strangers. “I was constantly being told that my baby wasn’t chubby enough, he’s so small, oh how old did you say he was and how much does he weigh?” says Colón, “I must have had to answer that a dozen times.”




Sharen Medrano is a local lactation consultant, and she says she hears this a lot. “Some of this stems from the misconceptions,” says Medrano, “some of it stems from some in the Latino community thinking that babies have to be chunky and chubby to be healthy when in fact most breastfed babies tend to be on the leaner end.”




The argument about how much to breastfeed really takes off online. “There’s so much judgement out there,” says Delgado, “I felt like that’s great that moms are able to breastfeed and that the support is out there, but once I decided to do formula, I felt like there wasn’t that much support out there.”

And on the other side of the breastfeeding spectrum, Luia Colón also felt a lack of support. “I was used to being a Latina who got a lot of support from fellow Latinas just being out in public, and suddenly it wasn’t there,” says Colón.




A strong support network at home is crucial, “I was really fortunate that we went home to a supportive environment, my partner and my family,” says Colón.

Yuliana Delgado eventually found a way to be at peace with her choice.

“My mom was the provider of the maltas, so I did get some pressure from her, but she understood after she saw what a wreck I was that it was just not going to be possible for me to do it,” says Delgado.

There’s so many factors to consider to deciding whether you want to breastfeed and for how long.

“In the end it’s your baby, and you know what’s right and you know what feels right and what you want to do,” says Medrano.




As in so many health decisions, when it comes to breastfeeding, ignore the haters. Feel free to make your own choices, but know what you’re getting into.

After all, breastfeeding is just the start of the mommy wars.





BrendaSalinasBefore coming on board as an associate producer with Latino USA, Brenda Salinas was awarded the highly competitive Kroc Fellowship at NPR. She has reported pieces for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Weekends on All Things Considered and for KUHF Houston Public Radio. In college, she started her campus’ only student run foreign-language publication, Nuestras Voces. Brenda has a B.A. in Economics from Columbia University.

Trust: Growing And Overcoming Through Theatre

We talk about “TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives,” a new documentary where a young Latina immigrant works with an Illinois based theater company to create a play from her harrowing true-life story.

“TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives” aired on PBS WORLD America ReFramed series on October 29, 2013. Watch the full documentary here: TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives.

B3_NancyKellyNancy Kelly is a director, writer, and producer. She has collaborated with editor and producer Kenji Yamamoto to create a documentary trilogy about the transformative power of art. The trilogy includes: “TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives” follows a Honduran teen whose real life story of trauma is unveiled in a daring original play performed by immigrant teenage members of Chicago’s Albany Park Theater Project; “Smitten,” examines art collector Rene di Rosa, who is smitten by art; and “Downside Up,” a film about how America’s largest museum of contemporary art, MASS MoCA, revived Kelly’s dying home town.  She also directed and produced the narrative feature “Thousand Pieces of Gold,” starring Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper, which was developed through the Sundance Institute. Photo courtesy of Amy Braswell.

B3_JesseCarloHeadshotJesse Carlo is a seasoned artist practitioner and scholar with over 20 years of experience in performance, direction, choreography and interdisciplinary arts education. Jesse is currently a faculty member in the Arts & Humanities at Miami Dade College and completing his Ph.D. in Humanities & Culture at Union Institute & University. Jesse is passionate about the ways the arts serve as a linguistic medium that surpasses the cerebral intellectual processes by simultaneously engaging the mind, body and spirit of the arts practitioner and observer. He firmly believes that through the arts we find healing and build solidarity.

B3_MarlinMarlin currently lives in the greater Chicago area. Photo courtesy of Amy Braswell.

Stressing It

Science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff discusses the relationship between poverty and stress. He talks about how this type of stress can have serious health consequences, and what this means for the Latino community.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A1MoisesVelasquezManoff_HeadshotMoises Velasquez-Manoff has written extensively, mostly on science and environment, for The Christian Science Monitor. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Chicago Tribune, and the Indianapolis Star, among other publications. He holds a master of arts, with a concentration in science writing, from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.


You crazy? Latinos and Mental Health

Growing up can be an emotional rollercoaster. Where do Latino youth caught up between culture and universal challenges to emotional well-being go for support? We hear from three young Latinos and how they cope with anxiety, depression, peer pressure and relationships. We also speak to Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, a professor and founding director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

Image courtesy of Nicole Plata.
Andrew Stelzer, Pauline Bartolone, and Jon Kalish contributed to this report.

Click here to download this week’s show.

View our panel featuring these guests and more resources.

sergioDr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola is a Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine, the Founding Director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities (CRHD), the Director of the Community Engagement Program of the UC Davis Clinical Translational Science Center (CTSC), and Co-Director of the National Institute of Aging (NIA) funded Latino Aging Research and Resource Center (LARRC).

claudiaClaudia Mendez is a 22 years old student at San Francisco State University. She was born and raised in the Mission District of San Francisco, CA, and was placed in foster care at the age of 16 because of family abuse. After realizing that there were many gaps in the foster care system, Claudia decided that she wanted to be an advocate for her community and help change different systems to better the lives of other young people. She is proudly a San Francisco State University Guardian Scholar pursuing a Bachelors degree in Comparative World Literature and plans to attend law school to become a dependency lawyer. She is also a member of Honoring Emancipated Youth and trainer at Transitional Youth Initiative. Besides school, some of Claudia’s hobbies are photography, soccer with friends and family, and scrapbooking.

nikkoNikko Reynoso is a Chicano trans* activist committed to social justice, gender equity, and anti-racist advocacy. From East Side San Jose, he speaks on issues relating to the intersections of identity, including sexuality, race, gender, and class. He is also a 3rd year UC Davis student studying Women and Gender studies, Chicana/o studies and Sociology.

nicoleNicole Plata is the Youth Initiatives Coordinator for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. She is a passionate and uncompromising advocate for Transitional Aged Youth (TAY) in the mental health system. Her passion is rooted in her own experience with trauma and is inspired by the investment of her mentors and her faith in God.
She is a native of East Side San Jose, and identifies as a Mixed-Race Latina of Panamanian and Puerto Rican descent. Having overcome a variety of challenges in her youth, from abuse and community violence to involvement in the criminal justice system and a traumatic brain surgery, Nicole offers a well-informed perspective to those she works with. She seeks to use her perspective and experience to advocate and inform services for the diverse youth of California. She does this through her work for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco and her involvement on various Transition Age Youth advocacy groups within San Francisco County and statewide. In her free time, Nicole is an artist and muralist who loves to awaken her roots through salsa dancing.


The state of New Mexico has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in the nation. Hispanics and Native Americans have borne the brunt of this devastation. In Albuquerque’s historically Latino South Valley neighborhood, black tar heroin has plagued families for generations. And prescription opiates have become an even bigger problem. But these days, the community is tapping into centuries-old cultural practices to help addicts find a new path to recovery. The core value here is respect.

Click here to download this week’s show. Image courtesy of the producer (Megan Kamerick)

For more information on La Plazita, visit their website. You can also check out Casa De Salud Family Medical Office.

 Megan Kamerick has been a journalist for 20 years, working in Milwaukee, San Antonio, New Orleans and Albuquerque. She is currently the host and producer of Public Square at New Mexico PBS. She is also an independent public radio producer and does a woman’s newscast regularly for Women’s Focus on KUNM in Albuquerque. Megan received awards for investigative pieces, arts coverage, environmental stories, profiles, breaking news, radio interviews and her portrayal of women. She was named outstanding small business journalist in New Mexico by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s New Mexico office. Megan holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University. She is the immediate past president of the Journalism & Women Symposium. Her talk on women and media, delivered at TEDx Albuquerque, is now featured on the organization’s national site,


There are more than 30 LGBTQ youth centers across the U.S., but few target the Spanish-speaking community specifically. That’s why La Clinica del Pueblo, a community health center in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Columbia Heights, Washington DC opened Empoderate. It’s a bilingual center that provides counseling, support, and free HIV testing to LGBTQ youth in the area.

This piece was produced by Lily Percy, edited by Maria Martin & mixed by Claire Schoen. It’s part of a year-long series examining health issues facing Latinos.

Latino USA’s year-long look at Latinos and Health is made possible by funding from Pfizer Helpful Answers®, a family of patient assistance programs for the uninsured and underinsured who need help getting Pfizer medicines.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.


The numbers are shocking: one in seven Latinas in the U.S. will make an attempt to take her own life.

It’s not widely known or reported, but young Latinas attempt suicide at much higher rates than girls in other ethnic groups. Today on the program, we try to understand why. We have invited Dr. Luis Zayas to join us and to serve as our guide. Zayas teaches in Saint Louis, at both the School of Medicine at Washington University and at its School of Social Work, where he founded and directs the Center for Latino Family Research. It’s the only one of its kind in the nation: a social research center dedicated to Latino health, mental health, and family & community development in the U.S. and in Latin America.

But each story of a Latina teen suicide attempt is a deeply personal story. So, on today’s program we meet Yanira — a young Dominican-American who lives in Harlem and who has struggled with depression—and repression—for years. Yanira’s life is a contradiction: she’s forced to act like an adult, while being denied the permission to do things that many ordinary teenagers can do.

Reporter Laura Starecheski takes us inside her story.

Right-click here to download an .mp3 of this segment.


Dr. Luis Zayas is the Professor of Psychology at the Washington School of Medicine in Saint Louis and the founder and director of the Center for Latino Family Research at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.

Professor Zayas’ clinical experience spans 25 years of working with children, adolescents, adults, and families working in community mental health, psychiatric clinics, pediatric rehabilitation, and community-based primary care medicine.

Zayas has been treating girls like Yanira for years, and he says that her situation is all too common. He believes that many suicide attempts by young Latinas are not necessarily born out of an actual desire for death; rather, it’s how these girls communicate their distress, their insufficient emotional well-being, the lack of open communication with their parents.

Zayas has been conducting a study of Latina girls, their families, and suicide. It’s groundbreaking research and has led him to say that he believes the root of the issue is the family members’ concept of sexuality, and the perceived strain on familial cohesion posed by the desire for teenage autonomy.

Listen to his extended interview with Maria.

Right click here to download an .mp3 of this segment


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