This past week I sat down and participated in a speaker event at my university. I decided it was important for me to go and show my support as a part of my Women and Gender Studies major. While this talk was centered on immigration, the topic of mental health came up quite frequently.
The speaker was Sonia Nazario, an award-winning journalist who has traveled alongside migrant children, families, and workers as they attempt to enter the United States as unlawful immigrants. Sonia’s personal experiences took me by surprise. As a journalism major, I have often contemplated whether or not I personally would be comfortable with putting my own life in danger for the sake of a story.
Sonia traveled many miles with these migrants. She hopped trains with them, battled the blistering heat and freezing cold, and even fought off an attacker. As a child of immigrants, Sonia knew this story needed to be told, and she put her own well-being as second string to her research. Over her many months of travel, Sonia said she saw the worst of people, but also the best of people. She saw small children mutilated in hospitals from jumping trains, families surviving on just one meal per day, and dangerous situations of violence and poverty.
Sonia revealed to us that when she returned, she was riddled with PTSD. A man had attempted to rape her on her journey, but she fought back and escaped. She was met with many challenges while using the train for transportation, and for months she was suffering from nightmares about a rapist chasing her down the train. Sonia was afraid at first to seek out treatment for her mental health. Eventually she broke down and decided to see a therapist. She spoke triumphantly as she explained to the audience that she no longer suffers from this PTDS, and it is all thanks to her therapist.
Sonia mentioned that she was raised by a Latino mother and was often discouraged from seeking treatment when she felt things were not okay emotionally. She explained that in her culture, people do not want to be seen as ‘crazy’ so they will not admit they need to seek mental health treatment.
Drug addiction stigma
In 2003, Sonia published her book, “Enrique’s Journey,” which followed the story of a young boy who attempts more than a handful of times to cross the border into the United States to find his mother. Enrique was born in Honduras, and at a young age his mother left him in their home country to go alone to the United States to try and make money to send back home so her son could have a better life.
Sonia said that although Enrique did eventually make it across the border, his story does not have a happy ending. In Honduras, there is little to no access to healthcare, and no mental health treatment options available. When Enrique’s mother left, he was heartbroken. Like so many other children whose mothers and fathers leave them in their countries to escape and make a better life, Enrique was constantly bounced around between relatives and friends. His mental health quickly deteriorated, and with no options, he turned to sniffing glue.
Enrique’s addiction took over his life. Once in the states he continued to use drugs, and eventually lost his wife and daughter. His family could no longer take his constant drug abuse and left him. Instead of seeing Enrique as a mentally ill individual, he was reduced to an addict that could not be helped. Sonia attempted to get Enrique into rehab, but he left after just a few days. Unfortunately, Enrique’s issues with his mental health were not treated properly and at an early age, and he does not want to be fixed. This story is much too common with the many children who are left by their parents in third world developing countries.
In many cultures, mental health is seen as an invisible fraction of life. When survival is not guaranteed, mental health falls to the bottom of the list of one’s priorities. We can see that with Enrique’s tragic story, and the instance of Sonia and her nightmares. The negative stigma that is attached to mental illness is preventing individuals from seeking out the help they need so badly.
Many individuals who do not get the help they need for a mental illness, turn to drugs and other harmful substances to treat and curb their negative emotions. This in turn makes the illness worse and can lead to overdose and even possibly death for the addict. The negative stigma against both mental illness and addiction that is held by most of general society is killing innocent people.
Mental health treatment
Fortunately, there is much mental health research being done to help decrease the negative stigma against both addicts and mental health patients. New programs are being implemented, grants are being funded, and society is beginning to change. There are many different options for people suffering from an untreated mental illness, and getting help is easier now than ever before.
Dual diagnosis centers are created with the hopes of treating both an addiction and a mental illness. Many treatment centers are focused on breaking down and destroying the negative stigma that surrounds mental illness. There are doctors and medical professionals that do not want to shame their patients, but instead help them forge a new life.
Living with mental illness does not need to be a secret anymore. Being open about our emotions and how we are feeling can help contribute to lessening the negative stigma attached to this illness. Being supportive of other is the best way to help in irradiating addiction and mental health disorders from our society.