CHICAGO — July was National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and, well, to be honest, I had no idea.

What's worse is that the annual campaign started all the way back in 2008, when Congress passed a resolution to improve access to mental health treatment and promote public awareness of mental illness, specifically among people of color.

I learned that this was the culmination of years of work by Bebe Moore Campbell, an author, journalist, teacher and co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization that advocates for people of color with mental illness.

Mental. Illness.


The big problem in treating mental illness is the stigma that all people — but especially those from communities of color — face.

And isn't it clear that the stigma begins with the term "mental illness"?

Who wants to label their mind as being sick or diseased?

Isn't it less awful to say, for instance, that you have depression, or anxiety, for instance?

I have both, and they are medically diagnosed conditions that would be painful enough to deal with if they weren't also individually seen as so abnormal in the Hispanic community. Throw on the words "mental illness" and it adds fear.

Hugo Balta, the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, encapsulated it perfectly in this tweet: "Latinos are typically taught that to seek out mental health treatment is equivalent to believing that you are loco, or crazy, so it's nothing that you want to readily admit."

It's not that Latinos don't "believe" in depression, anxiety or any other disorders, but for a long time there weren't popularly used terms in Spanish for these conditions. And then there's the immigrant mindset.

Back "home," there may have been war, poverty, hunger and/or other forms of privation. In this country, we have backbreaking work, language barriers, bigotry, violence and, perhaps, alcohol or drug abuse.

And if you're the child of immigrants, born in the ultra-rich United States, getting what's generally considered a world-class education and living in an opulence that is probably unimaginable compared with life in a parent's native country ... well, what in the world do you have to complain about?

At least that was my experience and that of many in my age cohort.

I've suffered — yes, suffered — from depression and anxiety ever since I can remember. Insomnia, stomachaches, nausea, headaches, eating disorders, crippling worry, repressed gender-identity and sexual-orientation issues ... I could go on.

But I had it easy compared with what many kids of color go through today.

Overt racism in public and at school, sometimes from teachers and administrators. The valid feeling — with statistics to back it up — that law enforcement is out to get you. Immigration enforcement raids haphazardly picking people up in their communities. The Trump administration's inhumane treatment of migrants at the border and attempts to restrict refugees from entering the country. High-stakes testing and the constant drumbeat in our culture of "college for all or your life is over."

Combating the stigma of mental illness in all communities, especially those of color, is actually quite simple: Provide them the tools to actually get professional medical care so that people in pain have the opportunity to own their hurts and get help.

Esther Cepeda's email address is, or follow her on Twitter: @estherjcepeda.