National Hispanic Heritage month kicked off on September 15th and will conclude on October 15th. This celebration recognizes the various Central and South American Independence days that take place in and around that four-week period.
As we collectively take the time to celebrate the contributions and cultures of our Latinx peers, RALIANCE caught up with Sandra Henriquez, RALIANCE co-founder and managing partner, to chat about how employers can understand and best support the mental health needs of the Latinx community.
RALIANCE: Can you tell us how mental health is perceived in your specific culture and in the larger Latinx culture? How is access a challenge?
Henriquez: I’m from South America; I was born in Ecuador. In my culture specifically, mental health is viewed as mental illness. I think that it’s a little different here in the States in that there are more conversations about mental health, counseling and different supports. People from the Latinx community who live here generally have better information about the benefits of mental health support and services than throughout Latin America.
With that being said, I still believe that the benefits of mental health are not really normalized or talked about in a way that causes people in the Latinx community to want to seek those services. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of communication and messaging to help. People need to know that everyday people can benefit from mental health support; it doesn’t mean that you require medication – you may or may not – but it doesn’t always mean that. It just means that each of us may sometimes need mental health support.
RALIANCE: How might these challenges impact an employee in the workplace?
Henriquez: First, Latinx people may not look for or seek out services. Secondly, culturally, we’re socialized to keep our personal lives and work very separate—when you show up at the job, you’re there to perform your job. If we talk about immigrant communities at large, people are sometimes afraid of showing any vulnerability or personal challenges that they may have for fear of giving anybody even a glimpse into what may be going on. And so, they sometimes will try and act like everything’s okay, and just keep it to themselves. Therefore, creating a greater sense of isolation and not getting them the help that they need.
RALIANCE: How can employers help with these challenges on an individual level or through company policy?
Henriquez: During onboarding and periodically throughout the year, it would be important for employers to normalize the conversation about mental health, something like Hey we all have things that happen in our lives. We’re not robots and for that reason, we have this employee assistance program – or – for that reason, part of your benefits include access to other kinds of support services, which could include counseling.
Our RALIANCE clients have found that providing anonymous testimonials a couple times a year from real employees who used and benefitted from the mental health services is really helpful to remind everybody that they have access to these services.
We get so busy in our lives that mental health gets put on the back burner. Let your team know that you care about them outside of their work product and that their well-being can also help strengthen their role or function at work.
RALIANCE: What are some things employers should know about how to help foster an inclusive environment for Latinx team members?
Henriquez: We have to create equity. People think that equity means equal — it doesn’t. You have to understand that some people are already at a disadvantage because of systems of oppression, such as racism, sexism, and ableism. In order for the workplace to be equitable, employers sometimes have to go a step beyond to make it an even playing field. For example, employers may intentionally address some of the barriers that Latinx employees may have by creating materials that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, which include testimonials, thereby demystifying some of the misconceptions regarding the benefits on mental health support.
RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit www.RALIANCE.org.