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Being Latino with ADHD: A Personal Overview

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“I thought you were just a creative type,” is what my mom told me when I first opened up to her about having ADHD.

I mean, when I first really opened up to her. Before I was officially diagnosed, I’d had a sneaking suspicion that I could potentially have ADHD. But whenever I vocalized those thoughts to various family members, they were quickly met with denial.

“Everyone has ADHD nowadays.”

“You don’t have ADHD, you’re just being lazy!”

“Being energetic doesn’t mean you have ADHD!”

Whether the ailment is physical or mental, Latinos are often much less likely to get professional help. In fact, Latinos visit the doctor less than any other ethnicity, and men are much less likely than women to visit the doctor.

I admit, I was very much part of this problem. I didn’t want to see a doctor about my mental health issues. It took the help of some incredible female friends to convince me that seeking out professional help wasn’t a sign of weakness.

After being diagnosed with ADHD, I thought about how each of my family members would respond.

I’m not sure who decided this “rule,” but it seems like the norm that if you’re sick and you’re Latino, you don’t talk about it. Though I’m sure many of you with immigrant parents will relate to this, regardless of ethnicity.

If someone does talk about it, the conversation gets shut down quickly.

That was my experience the first few months after I shared my diagnosis. I really got the gamut of responses.

There were the folks who denied ADHD existed at all. There were others who were quick to call me the “R” word. There were the older tios and tias who said it was all just a generational thing. And of course, there was the phrase es loco (“he’s crazy”).

I don’t advocate for using the word “loco/crazy,” but the phrase “es loco” is a phrase commonly used in Latino culture when dismissing people with any kind of mental health condition.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my culture more than anything and being a Mexican-American is an incredibly important part of my identity. But I strongly believe we need to re-evaluate how we approach mental health.

Of course, some of my family members and community were more accepting than others.

My teachers and family doctors were quick to accept and believe me. They asked how I was diagnosed, what medications I was taking, how I was feeling, and how they could support me. I imagine they’ve seen many cases like myself in their day-to-day lives.

Opening Up

After a while, I decided to take a different approach and explain my ADHD as a cognitive difference, rather than a disorder.

I’ve also found that gently prefacing statements like “I know you probably think this condition is over-diagnosed” or “I’ve gotten several opinions by medical professionals” can be helpful, depending on which tio you’re talking to.

Talking about mental health can be a bit taboo in Latino culture, so I’ll often cushion it with phrases like “Don’t worry, nothing has changed. I just have answers now,” or “So don’t feel offended if I stare off into space while you’re talking to me!”

Humor is often helpful, too.

“See? All those times I acted up as a kid weren’t my fault! Well, not all my fault.”

Of course, no two families are the same. These are some things that worked for me but do whatever is best for you and don’t be ashamed of your condition.

Data that Tells a Story

Latinos and other minority children are often less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than white children. While I’m not an expert on this, I highly doubt that means that being Latino makes you less likely to have ADHD.

Rather, I think this means that Latino children aren’t getting the right attention, possibly at home and in medical settings. It’s a complicated subject for which there is no one, single cause.

Latinos are the least insured racial group in the U.S., which can significantly limit access to care, and implicit racial bias in medical settings can similarly affect health outcomes.

Untangling cultural perceptions about healthcare is also challenging. If examples from my family are any indication, overcoming negative cultural stereotypes about doctors and illness can be just as difficult as tackling larger societal issues.

All this said, the education and awareness seem to be getting better — at least when it comes to ADHD in the Latino community.

A 2015 study showed a 43 percent increase in ADHD diagnoses among children overall.

However, diagnoses in Hispanic children increased a staggering 83 percent. Biologically, ADHD rates haven’t actually increased. I think we’re slowly but surely letting go of some of the old stigmas about mental health that have long plagued Latino culture.

We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re getting there.

For more information on how to manage ADHD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

ADHD-US-NP-00051 APRIL 2019