This has been a unique holiday season for the majority of us who didn’t actually get together with family last year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This season has brought its fair share of tension and complications ranging from navigating difficult Latinx family dynamics, dealing with invasive comments about our weight or questions about our current relationship status from well-meaning but intrusive streams, apuelas or prima. It also comes with the anxiety surrounding the pandemic that remains a lot among us. As the number of cases rises across the country, with infections and hospitalizations on the rise, many of us are on the fence about whether we should cancel or continue with plans.
HBO Max Pa’lante! In partnership with the WORD Agency campaign “Are You Listening?” They recently directed their latest short film, heal us. The project highlights the importance of Latinx communities prioritizing their mental health and wellness during the holiday season and as we prepare for the New Year. The movie is set in a barbershop/hair salon with a discussion led by mental health experts and famous Latino voices including Sasha Mercy, Jose Rosario and Carlos Gomez. It also contains clips from HBO Max’s speak Series featuring Diane Guerio, Ricardo Restrepo and Barbara Hare. Choosing to have the conversation at the barber/hair salon venue was very intentional. “For most Latinos, a salon/barbershop has always been a space to offload the week as well as a place to stay in touch with community and culture,” says Jessica Vargas, Director of Multicultural Marketing, HBO Max and HBO.
Josie Rosario, licensed couples and relationship therapist, says in the opening: “There are a lot of stigmas around mental health. One of them is that only white people go to therapy and only white people care about their mental health, and that could not be further from the truth.” from the movie. “Another really prevalent stigma is the idea that if you go to therapy or if you’re thinking about mental health and emotional wellness, there’s something wrong with you. That you’re crazy.”
Dominican-American comedian, actress and writer, Sacha Mercy, believes it is critical that we have more open conversations and debates about mental health within the Latinx communities. In the movie, she shares her own struggles with depression along with her healing journey. Merci has used her own platform, as well as her Instagram page, to try to normalize discussions about mental health.
“It is very important for me to share my mental health story because depression can be very isolating. When you reach such a state of desolation, you feel feelings of helplessness,” Mercy told PopSugar exclusively. “These feelings make you unable to relate to others, making you more alienated and misunderstood. It is therefore important for people to understand that they are not alone in depression. We tend to judge ourselves harshly because society’s perceptions of a healthy person are constantly in high spirits. Opening up the conversation about feeling dissatisfied with a friend, family member, or therapist can prevent your mind from indulging in a torrent of negative thoughts, making your mental health easier than if you hadn’t spoken.”
Merci wants to encourage people to have these conversations in the moment, especially during the holiday season when we gather with family and friends. Because although our loved ones usually mean well, they don’t always have the awareness to know how their words can affect your mental health. “Speaking to a professional or a friend can actually help you deal with certain aspects of the situation. I know we’ve all had a moment when we met a family member and then immediately felt like you shouldn’t,” she adds.
Zoila Darton, founder of the WORD Agency, developed “Are You Listening?” In partnership with HBO Max Pa’lante! After being inspired by HBO speakDesigned by Alberto Ferreras. “When developing AYL for Pa’lante! We knew we wanted to get around mental health as a reminder to people to continue to rely on emotional self-care but especially on holidays,” she tells us. “After two years of uncertainty, we can feel like there’s extra pressure being put on us to make things perfect or to look all over the place – to make up for lost time. Not to mention some of the natural friction that can come with traveling and being with family during this time. But the truth is That we’ve all gone through a collective trauma that has built up on our current traumas, so just ‘getting back to normal’ can feel really harsh. We’re at the height of history where there’s so much of us evolving beyond the archetypes our families assumed we’d be. We’re breaking generational chains which no longer served us and which included taking our mental wellness seriously.”
Rosario believes it is important to understand where the stigma and fear of treatment in our societies stem from. Rosario tells us, “Previous generations may be reluctant to try therapy as we know it for a variety of reasons. Therapy and therapists are connected to the medical field and there is a real mistrust in this area in our society.” “When our mothers’ and father’s experiences are rejected, for example, because of clinicians’ biases or our societies have been inhumanely tested, it stands to reason that previous generations were wary of trusting therapists and therapy to support them.”
She adds that cultural values can often conflict with the concept of therapy. “Take the familismo, for example, which focuses on pride, belonging, and loyalty to the family as a unit and its members. This cultural value states that there is strength inherent within the family and any challenges that may arise among its members,” Rosario says. “Seeing a healer, which usually occurs individually in the United States can be seen as fundamentally inconsistent with this foundational value in the Latino community.”
It’s important to think about understanding the survival styles of many of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents—particularly as immigrants. So many choices and so many decisions were made to put their emotions and mental health needs aside, out of necessity and survival. Rosario explains how many of these survival styles are also ingrained in our families and are interpreted as “strength” and something they are proud of. As a result, asking for help contradicts this. “It is important to note that previous generations were dependent on their religious and/or spiritual community for support in their home countries. Treatment in this country is a different experience than they are used to when it comes to (emotional) support,” Rosario adds. She believes that the key to healing our societies and encouraging previous generations to seek treatment and mental health support is first to recognize our privilege to have the knowledge, information, and access we have today. But part of the work is also focused on our own healing journeys. Because when we are healthier humans, we are better able to support those around us. Even if that support is as simple as being there and lending a relative who just needs to be heard and seen.
“As we get together with family and spend more time with them, it makes sense that it can be an emotionally charged time. You might get together with people you haven’t seen in a while, people who have different views than yours, or with whom you need strong boundaries,” Rosario says. “While it can be a fun time, it is also a time when we can take advantage of our emotional health to keep us safe, grounded and present. You may have a chance to talk openly about mental and emotional health with family and it is also important to respect where people are in their own emotional health process. Some people may be interested and open to talking about mental health, and others may be confused, interested or not interested in. It is important not to take it personally, even though it may be painful, and have support in place so we can than taking care of ourselves as best we can.”
Watch the short film below:
Image source: HBO Pa’lante!