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Stigma accompanies a mental health diagnosis for many Latinos

Loco in and of itself is not a bad word. Yet, in many Latino communities across the United States, the word has a stigmatized meaning. Mental illness is an issue that is often viewed with embarrassment and is seen as a sign of weakness. When families have a disabled child, this belief is especially true. Overall, you just do not talk about mental illness or other disabilities. That is the way it has always been, so why change now?

The signs are there

Information is power, and you cannot understand something that you never knew existed, in the first place. Mental health warning signs or certain behaviors associated with children who have special needs are often waved off with a simple “that’s just how they are.” Instead of being open about the topic, quite the opposite tends to be the case. Either you keep it quiet or ignore the problem entirely.


The Latino culture by nature exudes pride. Being so self-reliant can be both a gift and a burden. Deep-rooted cultural beliefs can make it impossible to get past the stigma of being labeled as the family who has the crazy tío. If the family has a child with developmental needs, the feelings of rejection and shame can make it all the harder for parents to admit there is a problem and seek help for their situation. Unfortunately, one of the areas where this can affect families the most is in the classroom.

The actual number of Latino children with special needs in the school system is underrepresented in many instances. Admitting your child may have a disability would be seen as a failure on the part of the parents. A lack of knowledge coupled with a language barrier makes Latinos less likely to seek help. Limited access to resources and a fear of rejection from the community continues to stigmatize those affected by mental illness.

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