Latino Criminals: A Consequence of Dismissing Mental Health Issues at a Young Age?

Updated on October 24, 2018
Ignoring mental illness symptoms early in life can contribute to the making of a criminal.
Ignoring mental illness symptoms early in life can contribute to the making of a criminal.

The Connection Between Poor Mental Health Care and Crime

There is a great connection between poor mental health and crime, which is why we need to make sure our Hispanic community has access to quality mental health resources. Instead of "forced rehabilitation" through imprisonment that doesn't seem to prove to be very effective, how can we as a Latino community take matters into our own hands to discourage the development of a criminal?

I am half-Mexican and half-Puerto Rican and have witnessed first-hand how mental health issues are regarded (and dismissed) in our community. I will change the identities of my family members that I'll be using to demonstrate my point:

1. A cousin of mine, Alberto, revealed to us when we were all teenagers that he was recently hospitalized with schizophrenia. He had hold us that he had heard demons talking to him and it scared him so much that he couldn't get rid of the voices that he almost killed himself. Our group of cousins (his "support group") were all 15-17 years old at the time. Instead of Alberto being praised for being brave and telling us his painful truth, the older members of our family were upset with Alberto and insisted to us that Alberto was making that up for attention and schizophrenia did not exist! In fact, poor Albert had been hospitalized, which we came to learn years later. At the time, we pulled away from him, thinking he was just an attention-seeking liar. To this day, he has gotten himself into a lot of legal trouble and become increasingly isolated. Even when we try to reach out to him, the trust has already been broken and he pushes us away.

2. An aunt of mine had always been overly-harsh to her daughters, especially one who showed signs of bipolar disorder early on. Instead of trying to understand this daughter, my aunt would go back and forth between calling her a "bad kid" or just dismissing the fact that anything was wrong at all. Her daughter ended up in a gang associated with murderers. Among talking to her, she shared that she felt closer to these people she could be "real with" than her own oppressive family.

3. Depression is fairly prevalent in my family. Like many men who internalize the whole machismo-culture, they have turned into alcoholics to cope with their depression and have as a result, committed petty crimes.

Can you think of how addressing these situations differently may have led to alternative outcomes?

Identifying and addressing mental health symptoms early on helps our community as a whole.
Identifying and addressing mental health symptoms early on helps our community as a whole.

Why is talking about mental health so uncomfortable?

In many Hispanic cultures that are deeply rooted in Catholicism, any differentiation from the norm can be interpreted as demonic, so those who are different are ostracized. Another reason that mental health issues are swept under the rug is that talking about this stuff candidly is so new that many people are still uncomfortable with it. Communicating about mental health issues requires a degree of VULNERABILITY, which also isn't necessarily encouraged in Hispanic culture. Can you think of other reasons as to why Latinos don't address mental health issues?

Unhelpful Latino Habits

Growing up, if you were "too sensitive" or different, how were you dealt with?

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How Ignoring/Neglecting Mental Health Encourages Crime

When family members are neglected, dismissed, or punished for showing traits that aren't neurotypical, a child will generally become resentful. That resentment only grows stronger as he or she grows older. And as far as respecting authority....if the certain individual has felt that his/her initial authority figures didn't have respect for them, then they take their anger out in other ways to alleviate their pain.

How Can You Make a Difference?

Here's some advice for parents, cousins, grandparents, and other family members on how to spot and address mental health issues before they breed the kind of anger that could potentially lead to crime:

1. If you suspect someone in your family is mentally ill, try having a candid conversation with them. Asking them a simple question, such as how are you doing and truly listening may give you the insight you need to determine if they need help.

2. Find a trusted provider in your area that you can take your kids or recommend to other family members if they suspect their child is "different"

3. Be brave and once trust is established with a family member, disclose your own personal issues with mental health. It may be scary at first, but at least you are creating a new norm and subconsciously communicating to the other person that you are open to talking about mental health.

Disclaimer

This article stems from personal sociological observations growing up in East LA versus any professional training I've had in the mental health field. I am merely a Hispanic woman who has witnessed many cases of regarding the connection between neglected mental health issues and the emergence of criminal behavior. May this article serve as a means to reflect and a call to action when it comes to addressing mental illness in our Hispanic community.

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