As the raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement surged earlier earlier this summer, Therapy for Latinx’s founder Brandie Carlos’ Instagram inbox began to fill up. “When the ICE raids were announced, I started to get 30 to 50 messages a day from people in crisis reaching out,” Carlos said. They were saying, ‘I’m undocumented or someone in my family is undocumented and I don’t know what to do.'” She invited a holistic therapist to lead Instagram followers on an 11-minute meditation in Spanish a few weeks ago. Two days later, Carlos invited a licensed clinical social worker to provide mental health guidance during a live session titled, “Immigration Raids and Your Mental Health.”
Carlos, a website designer and digital marketing strategist in East Los Angeles, founded Therapy for Latinx, an online directory of mental health professionals in May 2018 after a close friend committed suicide. Latinx Therapy, is a similar directory published online by a Southern California licensed family and marriage therapist who created a podcast with the same name last year.
Mental health resources, especially for those who lack access to insurance or mainstream providers, are crucial at a time when the current administration has doubled down on racist, xenophobic policies over the last two years and multiple shooting massacres driven by white nationalism have taken place.
Immigration policies affect immigrants’ mental health, but new research indicates that U.S. citizens are affected as well. U.S.-born teens with at least one immigrant parent who worried about the implications of immigration policy on their families suffered from anxiety, sleep problems and blood pressure changes, according to a study published in June in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. The study of nearly 400 teens in Salinas, Calif. compared their health data gathered before the 2016 presidential election with data from the first year after the election. In New York, a 13-year-old girl from Honduras who had been granted asylum died last month following a suicide attempt. She was reportedly despondent over being separated for four years from her father, who was detained at the border.
Many are finding solace in online mental health resources at a time when many Latinx and immigrant communities are feeling persecuted, and many are marginalized from access to traditional mental health resources or feel more comfortable accessing these resources from home. To help fill this need, mental health advocates are increasingly using social media to reach out to Latinx and immigrants in these communities. Primarily created by Latinx advocates for the Latinx community, these grass-roots efforts are targeted at various segments of this community. Hashtags such as #latinxmentalhealth or #latinxhealthmatters brings up hundreds of posts on social media.
“The children [of immigrants who] have the highest concern about immigration policies are also those children who have higher levels of anxiety,” said Brenda Ezkenazi, director of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at University of California, Berkeley. Ezkenazi noted that the youth she studied in Salinas, a predominantly Latinx city, is the “best-case scenario,” compared to other U.S. communities where Latinx might feel more vulnerable.
But the stress is not restricted to younger people. Los Angeles-area resident Jocelyn Vega, 30, was born in the United States but often worries about the trauma that Latinx families bear from painful immigration and assimilation journeys. She’s tried to find a therapist for her mom, 59, who immigrated decades ago from El Salvador, but couldn’t find a Latinx therapist who accepts clients her age.
“Our parents haven’t had the time to think about their mental health,” Vega said. “Their whole existence has been survive, survive, survive. At this point, what resources are available for them? What do they do? They cry in their bedroom at night when they’re alone.”
One reason many find online forums so alluring is that providers are able to share their own stories, allowing readers or listeners to feel less alone. This personalization resonates particularly well in the Latinx community, where many traditionally have viewed therapy as something for “locos” or crazy people. Rosalba Gonzales, 19, a restaurant worker and college student in San Gabriel, CA, experienced anxiety, stress, and depression in the days leading up to the well-publicized immigration raids. As an undocumented immigrant, she’d felt that way before, but never such hopelessness about her future. To calm her nerves, she recently started to meditate with the help of Youtube videos and found it helps her feel more grounded.
“I’m afraid for what’s to come, but I can’t let that stop me from moving forward,” said Gonzales, who has lived in the United States since she was eight years old. “Meditation helps me stay focused on my goals.”
Elizabeth Dawson-Hahn, a pediatrics professor at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, said she agreed with Eskenazi that mindfulness and other self-care affirmations via social media can be helpful. However, she advised that someone with so much “anxiety that they’re not able to participate in their daily might need a higher level of support,” which ideally should be decided in conjunction with a mental health professional.
“If mindfulness helps people feel more relaxed then I think that that’s fantastic and anything that allows people to have better access to resources is really important, particularly when they’re culturally and linguistically relevant,” said Dawson-Hahn, who has treated immigrant and refugee children.
Mental health advocates say they view their online efforts as a starting point — not a solution — to the lack of culturally relevant mental health resources in the Latinx community. Many provide a disclaimer on their main profile pages on social media and websites providing the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for people seeking urgent advice.
“For me, the platforms are important but the real magic happens in person, during the weekly healing circles and one-on-one. What we found is that our community prefers that immediate online connection but they also like the one-on-one,” said Marcela Arrieta, a Mexican immigrant and holistic therapist who appears regularly on some Univision and Telemundo channels and a popular Spanish-speaking radio station based in Los Angeles. She provides a free weekly, three-hour healing circle in person during which followers meditate as a group and learn about pranic healing, a natural technique that focuses on one’s energy.
Criss Cuervo, who immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when she was 15, created an online meditation and mindfulness course to provide Latinx immigrants with techniques to help them deal with “acculturative stress.” Cuervo self-published a guidebook based on research she conducted for her master’s thesis in mindfulness studies at Lesley University. The book, which can be used on its own or in conjunction with Cuervo’s online class, draws upon positive affirmations such as “my accent is my unique stamp in the world” and uses dichos, or sayings, popular in different Latin American countries.
There are other Latinx resources that target longer-term issues and solutions. For Latinx who feel powerless about the current political climate, The Latinx Mental Health Podcast offers a list of actions people can take, such as volunteering or attending protests, on its July 9 episode, “What Do We Do About the Immigration Crisis? - Toward Community Healing and Action.” For Latinx immigrants struggling with the process of acculturation, Cuervo created an eight-week online course to help foster a sense of belonging in the United States.
“My goal was to somehow change the way we use technology. I wanted to reach more people,” Cuervo said. “As Latinos, we love to connect.”