In my 15+ years of living in the Asheville area, it has been obvious how the population of Latin American immigrants has snowballed from a fairly small community, to making up to half the population in some of the towns of Western North Carolina. Some come fleeing deep economic poverty, sacrificing family unity in order to provide for those left behind in their countries of origin. Others come fleeing environmental disasters, or drug-war induced violence.
As a result, mental health can and often does become greatly sacrificed. The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that the Latino community is at a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. This comes as no surprise, as having to leave one’s family behind and come to a culture and language not their own can produce isolation and loneliness. Some of these immigrants come from machista societies where the abuse of power and control may be seen as the norm. This also results in depression and anxiety, and in many cases, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, from domestic violence. The CDC data suggests that young Latina females are twice as likely as males to think about suicide.
For many Latino immigrants, spirituality and religion have great meaning to them and are almost a part of the cultural society and language as well. It is not uncommon in Mexico for example for a catholic priest to be considered a part of the family. For many, one’s faith-expression and at times church (at least in my experience with the Catholic Church) is a Latin American immigrant’s transitional object that remains almost the same from one country to the next and may bring a certain level of comfort. For this reason I have found it very common for my Latino clients to request the inclusion of their faith and spirituality as part of their treatment. This correlates with most of my referrals coming from local churches. Sometimes it’s been their faith that may be the part of the source and/or part of the solution to the issues they face. I have a great love and fondness for this community, and feel greatly privileged to both serve it and be transformed by it. I am grateful to the Partnership for Pastoral Counseling for providing affordable counseling to this community in their language and their faith.
Megan Reilly Buser is a licensed clinical social worker, and member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, currently working at innerQuest. She has worked in Hispanic Ministry for over 25 years.