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Culture of Silence: Latina Teens Face High Rates of Depression
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Culture of Silence: Latina Teens Face High Rates of Depression

“It was after I turned 15 that things went downhill for me, in a way,” said Aurora, 19. “…By the beginning of high school, I knew I wasn’t happy.”

In a report broadcast on Public Radio International, journalist Ruxandra Guidi detailed how Aurora, who ran away from home, eventually got help at a Los Angeles clinic. Aurora’s story is becoming more familiar to those who work with Latina teens. The young women face depression more than white or black females, and far more than their male counterparts. The reasons for those high rates are varied. Therapy is still rare in much of Latin America, which can carry over here. U.S. Latinas can face competing gender roles and cultural clashes as well as discrimination.

A Spanish-language version of the report was broadcast on Radio Bilingue, and another version appeared on Latina Lista.

Photo courtesy of Bienvenidos Community Health in Los Angeles

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Ruxandra’s Story Behind the Story

My story focused on depression among young Latinas and children of immigrants, and what advances, if any, there have been in the last decade since research found that depression and suicide affect them disproportionately.

I came across that topic years ago, as I researched and wrote about health disparities between different ethnic communities in the United States–I didn’t realize that young women, in particular Latinas, experienced such high incidence of undiagnosed and untreated depression and suicide attempts. The reporting for this story taught me to look at some of this public health data more carefully and within a social, economic, and policy context; it taught me to seek out a narrative where most people would rather not share their story.

For starters, it was difficult to find a teenage girl and family members that would be open and willing to share their story in regards to depression. Mental illness is a huge taboo in the Latino community, and patient privacy rights make it difficult for health care providers to connect journalists with clients. Ultimately, I was able to connect with a small community clinic that understood and supported the purpose of my story, and they found a former client who had the insight to speak about her experience.

The IJJ fellowship was such an eye-opener for me. I really appreciated the resources and context offered by Dan Kowalski and Diane Solis, and the presentation by local mental health professionals in Oklahoma. Listening to their stories and tips for finding data and sources helped me flesh out the story and focus on the best kind of subject for it. I also got so many ideas and leads from chatting with other fellows and their story ideas.

For any other journalist pursuing similar work, I would suggest looking for story ideas that allow you to analyze not just current events but their impact on communities of color, and the intersection with issues like health, the economy, policy, etc. There really is too little thoughtful coverage on immigration beyond Washington policy and the debate over undocumented immigrants, and this is an opportunity for any reporter out there.

So far, the responses to my story on The World have been positive: A lot of listeners and readers said they appreciate the coverage on the topic of depression among Latinas, and the way the story was handled and delivered. It may be too soon to tell still, but I believe the story is resonating with the public and hopefully with care providers.

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