As the son of Cuban immigrants, I was the first person in my family born in the United States. My mother’s family fled Cuba when she was six years old and my father came to the United States in his late-30s. They said goodbye to family and friends, learned a new language and assimilated into a totally different culture. My parents faced enormous adversity with the hopes of building better lives and the struggles they endured have allowed me to have a better life, despite my own challenges with schizophrenia.
Looking back on my recovery, I can see the challenges diverse and multicultural communities face when it comes to mental illness treatment. I know I struggled. And I continue to hear myths and cultural misconceptions surrounding mental health in dialogue—even within my own family. Comments like: “Experimenting with drugs in college caused you to lose your mind.”
Cuban culture also contributes to a lot of stigma, shame and silence about mental illness. For example, our “machismo” culture can also prevent individuals from seeking help. Our powerful sense of masculine pride can interfere with the insight and acceptance of help.
But I believe diverse communities experience unique challenges and strengths when it comes to mental health. Cubans, for example, benefit from the cultural expectations of community participation and family support. During my recovery, I was expected to get back into the community, school and work. My father took me by the hand and enrolled me in community college classes. He said, “You can’t stay home all day talking to the television and smoking cigarettes.” His manner may have been rough, but he was unknowingly right: Individuals who return to school and/or work are more likely to have better outcomes.
Immediately going back to school required that I learn how to manage symptoms in public while interacting with others, even when I wasn’t feeling well. My mother encouraged me to “own it” and embrace my identity as an individual in recovery. Initially this was hard, but with time it has become easier. Going back to school improved my self-esteem. I started a blog reviewing books, trained to become a NAMI Connections facilitator and decided to become a health professional. And despite living with schizophrenia, this summer I graduated from the University of Miami as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
I truly believe that even the most harrowing experiences can be transformed into an opportunity for growth, and my recovery has benefited from certain cultural expectations. Together, this Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s more openly discuss these challenges and strengths, and lift the conversation about mental health beyond the shadows of stigma.
Carlos A. Larrauri R.N., B.S.N grew up in Miami as the son of Cuban Americans who left political and economic struggle for a better opportunity in the United States. A registered nurse, Carlos is currently in graduate school pursuing a career as a Nurse Practitioner. He serves on the Board of Directors for the National Alliance on Mental illness and NAMI Mami-Dade County. He aspires to interface clinical practice, research and policy, to reduce health inequities for people living with mental illness. To learn more about Carlos and his work, visit https://www.carloslarrauri.com/ or visit his LinkedIn.