AUSTIN, Texas - In this month of Hispanic Heritage, mental health advocates want to shine a light on disparities they’re seeing in the community.
According to Mental Health America, the country’s Hispanic population is expected to get to close to 30% of the population by 2060. Mental health issues are also on the rise though for Hispanic people ages 12-49.
Looking at the numbers, 86% of psychologists in the United States are white with only 5%Hispanic and 4% Black.
Maria Brown-Spence, an Afro-Latina mental health advocate and veteran, is using her organization Hearts2Heal, as a way to help bring awareness to the importance of culturally relevant mental health resources for Latinos in our community.
“This is one of the songs that got me through, I would turn it up!” Brown-Spence says as she sings to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman.”
She says music and mindfulness has carried her through life. Her spirit and positivity are contagious, and you’d never guess she’s been through hell and back. “I can’t tell you how many times I would be driving down the freeway with the windows down and just scream, scream, scream scream scream, scream,” Brown-Spence says.
Her latest project right now is working on wellness programs for young military members. She’s using the power of technology to make sure people like her have a way to access mental health.
“There’s not enough cultural relevant programming to support the way we look at mental health, bereavement or grief and loss,” Brown-Spence says.
She knows a thing or two about all those things, as a bi-cultural, bi-racial, veteran she says it’s been difficult navigating conversations on mental health. Then add on the loss of her loved ones.
“In 2012, I lost my grandmother to stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” Brown-Spence says. She describes the pain and strength she had to pull to deal with the loss. She says many times she felt she couldn’t talk to anyone near her, for fear of being a burden on her family and friends.
“Fast forward to 2018, I would go through the same thing with my partner at that time who had diffuse large b cell non-hodgkin's lymphoma,” Brown-Spence says.
She says it was difficult, knowing her partner’s diagnosis and fight were relentless. It’s these reasons why she now starts her mornings in silence and practicing mindfulness on her yoga mat.
“Through that journey, I realized there weren’t a lot of culturally appropriate resources or tools, if I wanted to talk to a black therapist, it was hard navigating that space to even try and to find them,” Brown-Spence says.
Through those lived experiences, she learned the importance of mental health.
“That holding in [of pain] is what’s harmful,” Brown-Spence says. “We have to find those outlets even if it’s just going to the parking lot for 5 minutes and having a scream.”
“We are ok to talk about so many other topics, but again that mental health is still taboo and such a stigma,” Brown-Spence says.
As the founder of Hearts2Heal she as a leader of her organization she frequently encourages her co-workers to acknowledge when life gets tough and you need time off. She’s especially focused on gathering culturally relevant resources for those who need it.
“I want to do something about that because it already takes so much to remove yourself from that stigma, but sometimes when you have someone that looks like you or has that same lived experience, it's easier to talk to that person because you can be transparent and you can feel like they’re not judging you,” Brown-Spence said. “And so that’s organically how Hearst2Heal came to be, was looking for a space I can feel connected and use my experiences to help someone else navigate that journey.”