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Arian Foster and the Long Overdue Conversation Around Mental Health within the Latino Community

Earlier this week, New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall sat down with Houston Texans running back Arian Foster to discuss Arian’s new role as inaugural member of PROJECT 375’s Founder’s Circle.

Back in 2011, after Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, he and his wife Michi launched the nonprofit PROJECT 375 with the mission of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and disorders. Now with the formation of PROJECT 375’s Founder’s Circle, Arian has become an ambassador for mental illness. By sharing his challenges and experiences, Arian is encouraging others to recognize mental illness symptoms and to seek help.

During the interview, Arian, who is of African American and Mexican decent, became very emotional as he discussed his sister’s struggle with bipolar disorder. Arian revealed that he and his family did not fully understand that his sister was suffering from an actual illness. To Arian, his sister was just being an “a**hole.” He revealed that they lost contact for years due to her bipolar disorder. Arian’s sister wanted him to share her story. Since her diagnosis, she's been able to move forward and has a better attitude about suffering from bipolar disorder. While she still has her struggles with the illness, his sister is getting her master's degree and it has been all on her own.

Arian also revealed that that he had personal struggles after he became an NFL player. It was overwhelming to go from a domestic violent household with little food, to a multi-million dollar pro athlete. "It had just been building up to the point where I was self medicating. I was drinking heavily," Arian admitted. "It was something that helped me because it was numbing." Due to the stigma associated with mental illness, Arian said that it wasn’t until his divorce that he decided to seek help.

Stigma and lack of understanding around mental illness is a huge problem in the Latino community. Many Latinos are afraid of being stigmatized for accessing mental health services. According to the National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health, Latinos are a high-risk group for depression, substance abuse and anxiety. About 1 in every 7 Latinos has attempted suicide. According to the American Psychological Association, if a mental health issue is even acknowledged, Latinos tend to rely on family, friends, traditional healers, and churches for help when dealing with an issue. An illness such as depression is often mistaken as nervousness or tiredness, and is only seen as temporary. Latinos are also taught to be self-reliant. In the Latino community, if you have a problem, you turn to God with prayer.

Watching this interview brought back my personal experiences with mental illness. My mother, who was born and raised in Colón, Panama, suffered from bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, she was not properly diagnosed until she was 32 years old. As a teen and as a young adult, she showed symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, family members dismissed those symptoms. Some even distanced themselves from her because they couldn’t deal with her erratic behavior. To them, she was just being her typical self; “acting crazy” whenever she “wanted attention.” At one point, mi abuelita actually believed that someone worked some sort of obeah on my mother. Even after her diagnosis, it would take another 5 years and several hospitalizations before everyone fully accepted and understood that she had a chemical imbalance.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Latinos are less likely to seek professional help for mental issues. In 2011, the percentage of persons 18 or older suffering from a mental illness was 15.9% among Latinos, compared to 18.8% among blacks, 20.5% among whites, and 16.1% among Asians. Among persons of two or more races, the percentage was 28.3%. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs, among Latinos with a mental disorder, fewer than 1 in 11 contact a mental health specialist, while fewer than 1 in 5 contact a general health care provider.

Latinos apprehensive approach to mental illnesses and disorders could also be due to the lack of Latino mental health professionals. According to the American Psychological Association, less than 25% of mental health professionals are minorities. It can be especially hard to seek treatment when you feel like your provider is unable to relate to your unique experiences. My mother told me that when she was first diagnosed, she felt like no one understood what she was going through. She moved to the United States when she was 28 years old, and was overwhelmed with the process of acculturation. Had she had someone who understood her unique issues, she probably would have been able to better handle her diagnosis earlier on.

Mental illness, just like cancer or diabetes, is an illness. It doesn’t have to be a major disorder like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to have a serious impact on your life. If depression is left untreated, it can have a severe impact on your relationships and overall well-being.

When asked if he would change anything about his life or his experiences with mental illness, Arian said that he would not change a thing. For Arian, everything that he has been through relating to mental illness has been a lesson. He is in a positive place emotionally, because he sought help and did the work. Today he is a better father, a better son, and an overall better person. Arian said that although this year has been hard on him career-wise due to his season ending injury; he has been able to accept it. "It's nothing that's going to break me as a human being,” he said.

I hope Arian Foster’s participation in PROJECT 375’s Founder’s Circle not only decreases the stigma attached to mental illness and disorders, but also starts the long overdue conversation within the Latino community. Hopefully, Arian’s story will encourage those who are suffering from a mental illness to seek help.

You can watch Brandon and Arian’s full interview here:

Photo credit: Associated Press/Pat Sullivan

Video credit: YouTube

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Author Bio:

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Lyndz is of Panamanian and Colombian descent. A writer at heart, Lyndz has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Spelman College, and a Master of Science in Publishing: Digital and Print Media from New York University. Lyndz currently lives in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter: @Lyndz_Boogie.

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