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At Rushford, Help for Hispanic Youths Facing Anti-Immigrant Vitriol

August 26, 2019

Biological causes aside, recent research indicates Hispanic youths struggle with depression more often than their black or white peers as a result of the bubbling negative sentiment against immigrants in this country.

The vitriol is even evident locally, thousands of miles from the contentious United States-Mexico border and El Paso, Texas, the site of a deadly rampage aimed at immigrants in a Walmart. Paul Shaker, a social worker with the Rushford Latino Program in Meriden, said such violent outbursts against Hispanics send ripples of fear through that community.

“Hispanic youths are feeling disenfranchised,” Shaker said. “In their culture, they are taught that family and the respect for authority figures are very important. Hearing a leader say your culture produces drug dealers and rapists is a serious blow to one’s stability and sense of self. It is dehumanizing.

“It is hard not to internalize this negativity, especially in a culture, like America, where Hispanics are routinely seen as here to use the system and take advantage of it, as lazy.”

All ages of Hispanics suffer as a result of the ongoing battle in Washington over building a wall to separate the United States and Mexico and the detainment of immigrants at the border. Youth, Shaker said, are less equipped to process the negativity.

“It is very depressing for the vast majority of people who want to and do work very hard and who are proud of their heritage,” he said, “looking to find a better life for their families and running from extreme poverty and violence.”

Family connections are also strong in the Hispanic community, making the separation of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border especially devastating, he added.

“Being part of a family is very important.” he said. “Clients will often miss their own therapy appointments because they are expected to accompany a mother, father, sibling or grandparent to a doctor’s appointment. To be separated from their families is seriously problematic.”

Most clients in the Rushford program are from Puerto Rico, with many raised in abject poverty in the projects. When they come in for treatment, and they say they are from the Projects, Shaker said he predicts he will diagnose them with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Exposed to violence, drugs and alcohol, he said, causes many to turn to heroin, cocaine, alcohol and other forms of addiction.

“The projects and prisons in Puerto Rico are filled with violence,” he said. “They talk of keeping watch, seeing friends and family shot, stabbed and killed in front of them. Former prisoners talk about the violence and killings in the prison system there, and the rampant drugs. They are predisposed, given this exposure, to depression and anxiety.”

To help such clients work through those feelings of anxiety and depression, he suggested:

  • Seek professional counseling. Don’t try to do this alone because there is help and people who care.
  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a good therapist or treatment facility like Rushford.
  • Be good to yourself. You deserve better.
  • Do not think you are alone. In therapy, you will meet other people who understand what you are going through because they went through it too.
  • Take time to walk, spend time with people who love you, pray and breathe!
  • If you feel that you might hurt yourself, call 911.

For more information about recovery help at Rushford, click here. To learn more on help, in Spanish, through Rushford programs, click here.