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Fear or Anxiety: Nervous Breakdown in Latinos

A nervous breakdown in Latinos is often considered a joke, but should we be worried?

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In Latin American culture we often talk about a "nervous breakdown" to refer to physical symptoms, especially those related to everyday situations that generate stress. These are almost always confined to women.

Fear and anxiety: equal or different?

Fear is a normal biological response of our body to an imminent danger and manifests itself with dry mouth, palpitations, restlessness, and increased respiratory rate, among other symptoms. While anxiety is a psychological response, accompanied by physical symptoms, it often occurs without any apparent trigger (or at least, not one immediately identifiable by the individual).

Although the presence of anxiety crises in the female population is more frequent (30.5%), it also occurs in men (19.2%), and this general distribution does not discriminate between races or cultures. When the frequency of these crises increases and begins to limit the normal performance of the individual in their daily life, it’s necessary to seek medical attention for diagnosis and treatment.

The most frequent Anxiety Disorders are: 1) panic disorder; 2) agoraphobia; 3) specific phobias; 4) post-traumatic stress disorder; and 5) generalized anxiety disorder.

What happens to a Latino when he or she has a "nervous breakdown?”

Culturally in Latin America, we don’t go to the doctor because of an anxiety crisis. The high levels of anguish and stress are managed through religious practices, social gatherings, conversations with friends, alternative medicine or some kind of "cure" with magical religious elements that are part of each region’s cosmovision.

Consulting a psychiatrist in Latin American countries is essentially limited to serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and, occasionally, depression.

When we emigrate we carry in our luggage all these social and cultural elements that help us survive in strange and unknown environments.

The risk of these anxiety disorders is that they could become chronic, allowing the appearance of other associated diseases such as depression if they are not adequately and timely addressed.

According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, for the Latino community in the U.S., it’s increasingly difficult to access quality healthcare due to their migratory, economic and language barriers, which limits their ability to consult adequate and competent specialists.

As long as Latinos continue to be considered a minority in the United States, our illnesses will also continue to be underestimated, denying the option of timely and proper medical care.

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