You are not crazy: Mental health stigma among Latinx community

Story and photos by SAYAKA KOCHI

One of the frequently discussed topics is that Latinx people are less likely to seek mental health treatment by themselves. Even when they are suffering from severe mental disorders, asking someone for help isn’t easy. There are several reasons why they cannot signal SOS.

“I didn’t want to admit that I was not OK,” Diana Aguilera said. Aguilera was born in Mexico and moved to Utah at age 10. She is a Peer Programs coordinator at the Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS) located at 3471 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City. LBHS is a nonprofit organization for unserved Latinx and Hispanic Utah citizens with mental illnesses, co-founded by Jacqueline Gomez-Arias and other contributors.

Before Aguilera became involved in LBHS, she had been suffering from depression, triggered by a harsh breakup. Because of her mental breakdown, she said she gave up school, her desire to be a social worker, and full-time work.

“I went to bed every day and like ‘please, don’t wake up anymore.’ I asked my body to give up because I couldn’t literally go on anymore,” Aguilera said. “I didn’t like to talk about it. I tried to hide it. Because I didn’t want my family to feel guilty.”

While she was ignoring her mental breakdown, she started volunteering at LBHS to help others in 2015. There, she said she met people with depression and those who have overcome their mental illnesses. Through being with them, she said she could finally acknowledge that she had to seek help.

“I met one of the founding members, Jacqueline [Gomez-Arias]. She was so open about her mental health issues. Through the conversation with her, she was like ‘you need help. You have depression. You have to seek help,’” Aguilera said. “Hearing from her, it was reassuring that it’s OK, I’ll be fine.”

With the help of Gomez-Arias and Aguilera’s sister, she was able to find a therapist and start fighting against her depression. At this point, health insurance is one of the main reasons that Latinx people cannot seek treatment. According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one-third of Latinx immigrants are uninsured.

“I was really lucky and privileged that I had health insurance. Not everyone has health insurance. Not everyone can afford a therapist,” Aguilera said.

After several years of taking multiple medications and attending therapy, she said her mental health slowly but steadily recovered.

“Right now, I’m doing very well,” Aguilera said. “I don’t think that is a magic thing. It’s just a huge combination of everything.”

Aguilera also explained the importance of belonging in the community. “I’ve gone through therapy but that wasn’t super enough. For my recovery, I needed my community. Latino Behavioral has been my community. That was the most important thing for me.”

Like Aguilera, Carla Astorga had also suffered from mental breakdown for a few decades. Astorga was born and raised in Lima, Peru, which was a “corrupted” place for her to live. Through a lot of traumatic events from her childhood, Astorga said that her mind was broken. To escape from such a harsh environment, she said she decided to move to Utah in 2005.

“I didn’t recognize my symptoms at first. I felt sadness for whole days. So I didn’t know that it became a depression,” Astorga said.

Ten years had passed since she escaped from her country, but she said her symptoms reached such a level that she couldn’t stand them anymore.

“Anxiety, depression, panic attack, paranoid, fear — everything was starting to growing up and growing up,” Astorga said. “I started to see things that were not there. One day, I was driving to send my kids to school. After that, I went to the police station, because I smelled a bomb in my car. Police checked my car, but there was no bomb.”

At this moment, Astorga said she realized for the first time that she had a mental illness. She then decided to take treatment. As a first step, she came to visit LBHS to pull herself out of the darkness. She said she also took psychiatric medication, therapy, and some training provided by NAMI, which is the nation’s largest mental health organization. Over a couple of years going through hard times, she could finally overcome her mental disorder.

“The most successful part of my recovery was to be able to find one place with my own culture and language that I could feel like I was at home,” Astorga said.

Ever since her symptoms improved, she has been helping people at LBHS as a peer supporter and at NAMI as a Wasatch/Summit affiliate leader.

“I didn’t see enough sources with my own language in my area. Latino people need more sources for mental health,” Astorga said. “When I was getting recovered, I started to be aware that I had confidence and trusted myself. So I started thinking that I wanted to help other people.”

Astorga said a lack of knowledge is the main issue for Latinx people when they develop mental illnesses.

“In my culture, if you go to a psychologist or a doctor to take medicines, you are crazy,” Astorga said.

As Astorga pointed out, finding a peer mentor who has the same cultural background is really hard for underrepresented minorities.

Laiyan Bawadeen, a counseling intern for international students at the University of Utah, addressed this cultural difference issue from a counselor’s perspective.

“To address cultural differences in general, it is important that a counselor uses a multicultural viewpoint where they approach counseling through the context of the student’s world and culture while their own values or bias is not more important than that of the student,” Bawadeen said in an email interview.

Bawadeen is half Taiwanese and half Sri Lankan, and she is pursuing her master’s degree in clinical and mental health counseling at the U. As a member of the minority group, Bawadeen also suggested the importance of correct knowledge about mental treatment.

“I think demystifying what mental health [is], understanding what a counseling session looks like and what to expect can help demystify the counseling process, remove the stigma around mental health and make it easier for individuals to seek help,” Bawadeen said.

Seeking help is not easy for Latinx and other minority people. This might be because of the language barrier, not having health insurance, stigma, or caring so much about families or those who are closest to them. However, at some point, they need help.

Astorga said, “Latino[x] people are very strong. They were fighters or warriors. So they say they can do this alone, but they can’t.”


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Britt Brooks



Hi, my name is Britt Brooks and I had the chance to take Voices of Utah this spring. I’m majoring in strategic communication and double-minoring in Spanish and creative writing. Being bilingual has always been a goal of mine, and I’ve been in Spanish classes since the age of 12. But even though a Spanish minor seemed like a good choice for my resume, I wouldn’t give up creative writing and the world of literature.

As a lover of poetry and fiction I didn’t know if journalism would be a good fit for me, but I’ve been hooked ever since my Intro to News Writing class. In the fall of 2017 I started writing articles for the Utah chapter of the online magazine Her Campus about beauty, fashion, music, and any current events or issues that I find interesting.B1

This semester I created a new position at Her Campus Utah called director of media relations. I currently hold this position, and my goal is to enhance HCU’s multimedia platform through videos and online interactions with social media. I build relationships with people in our community, as well as host videos and conduct interviews about local and university-related people and places.

Though I try to avoid distractions during the school year, my biggest guilty pleasure is watching reality TV, especially reruns from early 2000s shows like “The Simple Life” and “America’s Next Top Model.” I love to travel and hope to one day take my Spanish experience to Latin America and Spain.


When I found out that our beat this semester was the Latinx community I got pretty excited, as I thought my Spanish-speaking background could come in handy. We quickly learned from press pool interviews with Alex Guzman and Rebecca Chavez-Houck that approaching the Latinx community can be challenging, especially if possible interviews contained questions about papers, illegal immigration, or citizenship.

The abrasiveness of the political climate in America in relation to Latinx people was something I wanted to take a step away from. I was frustrated by the abundance of negative coverage about Latinxs around the country that focus mainly on crime and illegal immigration. I wanted to get as far from that as possible and shed light on positive aspects, organizations, and opinions of Latinx people in Utah.

My first article of the semester was about three organizations in Utah that were started by and for Hispanic people. Members from the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Utah Coalition of La Raza, and Dream Center all shared inspiring stories with me about the resources and opportunities they offer to Utah’s Latinx community. I was more than happy to give these places some well-due coverage and share their messages with a broader audience.

For my next piece I wanted to get a little closer to home and dig into the topic of Hispanic journalists. I interviewed the editor-in-chief of Her Campus Utah about the administrative side of the magazine and why Latinx voices are especially important as that demographic continues to grow. I was also able to talk to HCU’s first Latina writer who told me the various challenges and fears she faced as the first Latina in what used to be a large group of white women.

As a council member of HCU writing this article really opened my eyes to the unspoken apprehensions people of color face when joining mostly white organizations. This insight helped me speak up in regards to reaching out to diverse clubs and introducing HCU as a place where all voices are heard and valued. Building a space where people of all backgrounds feel comfortable and welcome is definitely a top priority for myself and the council at HCU.

In my final story I wanted to explore beauty, the topic that always interests me most.  I quickly found out that the beauty industry is experienced very differently depending on if someone is Latinx or white. Hispanic and American standards of beauty can be quite different from each other, which leaves many Latinx women feeling unsatisfied with their appearance or lost in the middle. Some women face discrimination in situations when they’re the only person of color in a room, and are pressured into speaking for and representing an entire demographic of people.  

Getting fresh information from my sources is always exhilarating to me and I love being the journalist to share someone’s story in an artistic and entertaining way. Voices of Utah has solidified my already-held belief that everyone has something valuable to say no matter how they look. Something I’ve wanted to do all semester is present a diverse collection of voices without bias to showcase the underrepresented Latinx community in Utah.



Dayna Bae



Before I take this course, I expected writing about the special topic that I am interested in. I thought I could choose my own subject for beat reporting. Against my expectations, the topic of beat reporting of this course was tied to one specific topic in a community. I never expected that, but I thought working on the same topic with many peers was a tremendous experience since I could witness diverse perspectives on the same subject. Through this, I learned that each person has a different view on perceiving and interpreting the same topic, even if each individual belongs to the same local community.

Processed with MOLDIVAt first, I got many mistakes and errors in formatting and editing. I faced lots of difficulties when I tried to reach people for an interview. Amongst many difficulties, the most difficult part was a language. Since English is not my first language, I was intimidated by lacking English skills and fluency. I was also extremely stressed by the lack of human sources to interview for my article. Contacting and reaching people are still stressful to me like all other journalists think. However, I got used to the stressful pressure. I think practicing language skills and finding resources are the inevitable part of life for journalists.

Since this course is focused on the issues of local community, I was an outsider from the very beginning of the semester. I am a student from the Asia Campus, which is located in South Korea, and this is my first semester in Salt Lake City. Thus, I was not familiar with any local issues or events and geographical information. However, thanks to being an outsider, I could have a more objective point of view on the topic, and I could feel more empathy with the Pacific Islanders in Utah. I cannot say that I was not affected by that since my reporting is related to outsider’s viewpoint. Thanks to the Voices of Utah, I could learn lots of professional skills and utilize every source as a journalist. It was a precious experience of testing my ability and possibility in my field.


I am a senior studying communication and concentrating on journalism at the University of Utah. I studied social work before I changed my major to communication in 2017. Experiences in social work made me have a significant interest in human rights issues as well as humanitarian aid. I am passionate to become a reporter at the United Nations News Center along with my journalism career.

I love arts, music and travel. During my free time, I enjoy taking photographs and capturing everyday lives in still images. I also love to write a novel mostly about love and friendship. I appreciate art and art history, so I am also interested in writing art columns after getting an academic degree in art history in the future. I believe that I am an artistic person. I also believe in the power of writing, regardless of any types of writings. One day, I want to publish my own articles that can make people impressed and think with various perspectives.

Sheherazada Hameed


MY BLOG: Giving voice to groups that need better recognition in the community

There are many ethnic groups along the Wasatch Front that need to be reintroduced by the media in a different light. We live in an era where humans are often narrow-minded and continue to create stereotypes about people who have a different religion or skin color. Part of the reason is the diluted information or increasing negative content distributed by the media.

My personal and professional goal is to share knowledge and educate my audience about the existence of other cultures near us. About their struggles, life stories and what they do here to make our life different. I wish people can reach out to each other and exchange their life experience so they can work together toward a better tomorrow.

When I started reporting this semester my beat was the Pacific Islanders.

It wasn’t difficult to find the Pacific Islanders who do extraordinary things every day and contribute to their families and communities.

I found that Pacific Islanders were excited to speak to a reporter. They all felt like there is not enough good and positive said about them. They were surprised that someone is interested in their life.

I interviewed David Lavulo and members of his family about their restaurant and the mission to serve fresh and nutritious meals every day, practicing healthy cooking and traditional recipes.

My experience with Haviar Hafoka and the Malialole Dance group was spectacular. I wrote a story about education through dance and music and preservation of good life values for the young generation of Pacific Islanders. I attended an event where I could experience the native music, dance and harmony of their relationships with each other.

The last story I worked on was about dedication and mission to preserve Utah’s historical side. I spoke with William AhQuin and his son Job AhQuin about the Iosepa cemetery. They taught me of how little people need to live but faith and family are the foundation of life.

I realized for myself and my readers that there is so much good to be found around us and is my mission to share it.


My name is Sheherazada Hameed and I am a student-journalist at the University of Utah majoring in communication with an emphasis in journalism. I am currently working on establishing my name and style and wish to start a career as a reporter in a local newspaper or a magazineIMG_9859 V2

I am passionate about learning and reporting different minority groups in the state of Utah. Refugees and immigrants are my focus of interest and I wish to cover their problems and stories in depth.

My interest is inspired by personal life experience.

I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1983 in the family of a Bulgarian mother and an Iraqi father. My father taught me that journalists are the free-minded and publicly respected professionals. I started my education at Sofia University. Just after completing my third year at the Department of Journalism and Public Relations, I made the bold decision to come to the United States, leaving my education incomplete.

I arrived in Salt Lake City in 2005 and since then I have worked in many hotels and resorts in Utah. I have worked as a server and a bartender. In 2011 I graduated from National Academy of Medical Aesthetics in Salt Lake City and since then I have worked in spas.

Working and living as an immigrant I was introduced to many people with similar stories who came to America to look for opportunities. In 2009 I married my husband Javier who is an immigrant from Mexico. We have one daughter, Margarita, named after my mother who passed away in 2009. We raise Margarita as a unique individual and we remind her every day of the choices her parents had to make.

In 2017 I decided that I need to complete my education. I knew it is important to set an example for my daughter. My mother’s greatest wish before she died was for me to graduate from a university.

My personal experience and relations with people from a multicultural background is an inspiration to write. The stories of refugees and their survival. The stories of people who came here to seek safer and better life for their children. The undocumented immigrants who live among us. Those are all human stories and I want to tell them.

Today I live in Salt Lake City with my husband and daughter and my four cats. In our busy lives, we still find opportunities to do things we love. We enjoy traveling and learning more about the great country we live in. In my free time, I love cooking, gardening and watching Cold War spy movies. I wish I am not so scared and learn how to ski so I can fully enjoy the unique state we live in.


Marissa Sittler



As a result of my reporting this semester, I realized the disparity between media coverage of the minority groups and the majority population in Utah. While it should not surprise me (why would Utah have greater coverage of minorities than Hollywood or the mass media?), it still was a little disheartening. The silver lining behind this, is that our class and the following Voices classes have the opportunity to highlight and learn more about the minority groups in Utah. As a person of color, I recognize this project’s importance and the great need we have for it not only at the University of Utah, but the Utah community as a whole.

Another result of my reporting this semester is that I gained more experience in the field of journalism. For previous courses (although some were not strictly journalism courses, more so general writing courses), I was not always required to actually go out and find sources and set up interviews. I would say that I had a pretty firm grasp of the interviewing process prior to this class, but this class really gave me a taste of having to chase after potential sources and following up with them several times, if they did not get back to me. That leads me into some of the disappointments and successes that I experienced this semester.

My first story, which was a profile on Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou and her journey of self-acceptance as a transracial adoptee, is the story that I am most proud of. As a transracial adoptee, I was able to connect with Susi and the sentiments she expressed, such as sadness, anger and confusion. Susi shared with me that she was grateful “for the opportunity for me to share this part of me that has turned into a strength.” I think this is why I am the most proud of this piece, because I was able to write a story that was close to me and I felt that I did it justice to Susi. While I feel that this story was a huge success, I was also a little disappointed because one of the sources I really wanted to interview, Susi’s longtime friend, did not get back to me until far after the deadline for the story passed. I think that her thoughts and contributions would have made the story even more personal.

Another disappointment was with the lack of depth that my third story on the umbrella organization, Nā HALE, had. Overall, I think that I did the best that I could, since Nā HALE is not a fully formed organization. Several times I was told that this was more “a concept” than a formal organization. I knew of its fairly new beginning when Jake Fitisemanu Jr. came to talk to our class and he said that it did not have a website. Despite this, I still wanted to pursue the story because I thought that it was worthwhile. Because of these factors, this did make for a shorter story than I wanted. Additionally, my photos for this story were not as interesting as my previous ones, which were all portraits.  

On a more personal level, there was a time that I felt like an outsider during my beat reporting this semester. When I met Susi at the Kearns Library, she explained to me that Kearns is one of the poorest cities in Salt Lake County, even below West Valley City. She also said that the library feeds a good amount (I can’t remember the exact number) of kids, which isn’t something that a typical library does. I have felt like an outsider for a lot of my life being an Asian American adoptee, growing up with two white parents and living in predominantly white, upper-middle-class communities. I’ve mainly felt like an outsider in Utah because of my race. There have also been times that I have felt like an insider, which I think is the feeling of belonging and not feeling out of place.

There have been instances where I have felt like I stood out for my socioeconomic status. But when I met with Susi and she explained to me how a lot of the kids at the Kearns library are there alone, without their parents since their parents just dropped them off and/or are there to be fed, I really felt the privilege that I have had throughout my life. Those are things that have never happened to me, that I have never experienced. I thought about my fond memories of going to the library when I was younger with my mom and older sister. And I thought about how my mom would have made food for us before or after the library. What overpowered the feeling of being an outsider was my gratitude for the life that I have, but also guilt for what I have. This did not affect my reporting, mainly because it wasn’t the focus of my story, but I think it affected me more on a larger, more personal scale. And, it might even impact the type of stories that I write in the future.

I am still exploring who I am as a journalist. I still have a lot to learn, a lot of people to listen and talk to. I want to be able to share their stories and mine. The unknown can be really scary. But I am excited to be able to explore the potential that I have and share my voice with the world.


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Marissa Sittler graduated from the University of Utah in May 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in communication with an emphasis in journalism. During her time at the university, she completed two internships. The summer before her junior year, she interned with the nonprofit organization Mali Rising Foundation as its communication intern. She assisted the executive director in energizing a social media campaign, in addition to writing blog posts for the website. During the spring semester of her junior year, she was the internal communication specialist for the Salt Lake County Health Department. As such, she researched, interviewed and wrote employee spotlights for internal use to increase morale within the department.

Her academic achievements include the Dean’s List for the spring and fall semesters of 2016 and 2017, as well as being a member of Kappa Tau Alpha, the national honor society for journalism and mass communication.

She hopes to earn her master’s degree in journalism in the near future.

Some of her guilty pleasures are breakfast food, including pancakes, waffles and hash browns. She also loves being an aunt to her older sister’s dog, Chloe.

George W. Kounalis



My initial expectation for covering the Pacific Islander community in Salt Lake City was that it would be a challenge. I knew nobody involved with the Pacific Islander community prior to the start of this semester. From the get-go, I knew I wanted to tackle a tougher topic to start off with.

When Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou came to our class as our first interview, I began making connections to a few individuals in the state’s Pacific Islander community. From that first interview, I learned a lot about the different cultures across the Pacific Islander community in Utah, and I felt that made it easier for me to come up with story ideas.

My first story tackled the intersectionality of being a prison inmate and a minority in the state of Utah and what resources are provided. By looking at an issue like this, I saw how important a role family plays for many Pacific Islanders.

I struggled remaining objective with this story. Learning about how the corrections system worked and reading some of the information dug up by the Deseret News made it hard to close off the story while remaining objective. By finding out Washington state has a group for Pacific Islander and Asian American males and helping them adjust to life after prison, I was able to report that without injecting my personal opinions about the current state of the corrections system.

After this story, I wanted to look at something local to campus. I covered the Pacific Islander Student Association at the University of Utah and took a look at what it offered the University community and saw the group’s passion for service.

My final story was a topic that is universal but can reveal a culture’s story, food. I covered Moki’s Hawaiian Grill and the dishes served and learned quite a bit about Hawaiian history that can be told through Hawaiian food.

The most important lesson I learned this semester is how family is the cornerstone of the Pacific Islander community and how it has a bigger meaning than the western meaning of the word. Learning this was very important for me and made me able to look at my own local community as my own family.

Reporting on this beat enabled me to learn more about the Pacific Islander community as a whole and the issues that people face as well as the customs and traditions that I did not know about. As stated earlier, family is the cornerstone of many Pacific Islander cultures and getting to learn that and see it in action was something that really hit me on a personal level. In a world that seems to get more chaotic by the minute, getting to cover a beat like this allowed me to take a more humanistic approach on community issues. Covering a local minority group like the Pacific Islander Community taught me a lot while writing these stories.



My past work experience has included the University of Utah Campus Store, K-UTE Radio, Apple, and Kumon. I started working at 14 and have never taken a sick day. I am currently the lead student IT specialist at the Campus Store, as well as the producer for the Crimson Venue, Echoplex, and Sunday Hub at K-UTE radio.

I graduated in May 2018, majoring in communication at the University of Utah. During my time at the U, I learned that I have a love for hearing people’s stories and had a desire to do so. Choosing the major I did let me learn and hone the skills to be an effective storyteller.

When I’m not in class, at work, managing my DJs or doing homework, I like collecting records, playing my guitar, watching movies, watching the Cubs, and collecting geek fandom memorabilia. My passion for geek culture has allowed me to meet Weird Al, Jess Harnell, and Charlie Adler. My passion for music has allowed me to meet King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Kodie Shane, and DJ Nixbeat of Salt Lake City (one of the few DJs who spin just vinyl records in Salt Lake!).

Shaelyn Barber



Whenever anything happens to me, the first person I call is my mom. So, buzzing off the excitement of my very first interview for Voices of Utah, I dialed her number. It rang once, twice, then three times, and the warm voice of my mother echoed through the speaker.

I chattered into the phone, animatedly spilling the tale. She listened patiently, then laughed.

“You sure chose an interesting job.”

For an introvert with social anxiety, journalism is perhaps a nonsensical career path. As part of my daily life, I am pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. I have to go outside, search out fascinating stories, approach strangers, and carry out long conversations with people I’ve never met before. By all expectations, it should be terrifying for me. In fact, it is.

Yet, the terror is counterbalanced by something stronger: a deep bubbling passion.

I never wanted to settle for a career that I was not in love with. Fortunately, I stumbled into journalism by pure coincidence. As I searched painstakingly for a life path, I found that journalism just so happened to check off all the criteria I had for a job. I would be able to travel. I could write. And, I would never have to stop learning.

But, beyond that check list, journalism has blossomed into something that means far more to me. For every ounce of fear in my heart, there is just as much love.

Most of all, and again perhaps most bizarrely paradoxical, is the deep fascination I bear for the stories of other people. While I, in all likelihood, should be terrified to go out and have deep conversations with people I have never met, that is truly my favorite part of journalism.

I want to hear about people’s experiences and lives. I want to form connections and emotional bonds. I want to write about them so that other people, too, may learn from them.

That has been my greatest realization while working on my stories for Voices of Utah. I can overcome my fears, because writing gives me strength through my weaknesses.


My first experience with journalism was in first grade. As some sort of career exploration, I shuffled myself into a dimly lit portable classroom and sat down to learn the art of news writing. I loved it. Then, I promptly abandoned it for the world of fiction.

I spent most of my younger days working to be an author. I have stacks of notebooks filled with poetry, story outlines and character sketches. I wrote at least two full-novel-length works during high school.

By the time I reached college in the fall of 2014, my dreams of authorship began to fade and I was left drifting, searching for something to fulfill me in the same way that fantasy had. I wrote lists of possible majors containing everything from astronomy to painting and all that lies in between.

I finally settled on the two majors that seemed to fit the best, political science and journalism and, as I began to learn the art of news writing, I fell in love once again.

I aspire to become a travel writer. I want to be able to see the world and share my experiences and passion with others through my writing.

My work can be found on my personal blog, Shaepable, and in the opinion section for the Daily Utah Chronicle.