As research catches up on BIPOC communities and mental health, the number of Latinx individuals seeking an ADHD diagnosis is growing. This trend also applies to seeking mental health help more broadly.
But, as history shows, Latinx communities have a long way to go in chipping away at the cultural foundations that perpetuate stigma.
Symptoms of ADHD including executive dysfunction, emotional dysregulation, task initiation/follow-through problems, misperception of time, and rejection sensitivity dysphoria, contradict expected Latinx cultural norms. These contradictions create “double pressures” that neurodivergent Latinx individuals face, making the journey to acceptance and healing more difficult.
We’ve created this blog post in collaboration with digital content creator, Latinx ADHD advocate, and founder of Accountable Otters Club Izzie Chea (@izzieandadhd).
We’re exploring the unique barriers and cultural expectations that Latinx individuals with ADHD face, and provide some resources to better navigate them.
Remember! Every person’s journey looks different. The barriers and expectations faced by one individual may be either similar or differ to your own. What matters is that we come together and try to understand each person’s experience.
Latinx communities face several barriers in their ability to access adequate mental healthcare, which include:
Generational trauma, or legacy burden, are feelings, emotions, energies and beliefs that can be traced back several generations and transmitted explicitly or implicitly in families. Trauma is absorbed through historical events like genocide and colonization, stripping individuals of centuries of precolonial traditions and ways of life.
How does it show up in the ADHD experience?
Each individual has a different experience and faces unique pressures. Izzie lays out some common ways that generational trauma can influence the Latinx ADHD experience:
“I struggle with the demands and expectations of a being a Latina mom. The pressure to be everything, look great, be polite, and act like I have my life together is exhausting. Sometimes, I don't want to be all "arreglada" and look decent, no matter who comes to visit. But our elders put this pressure on us, and through their sacrifices to get to this country, we feel guilty for our own struggles. Communicating openly about limits and support needs helps.” - Izzie Chea (@izzieandadhd)
Emotional dysregulation takes center stage in the interactions with family members, giving perceived justification to those who quickly label individuals with ADHD as “locas” (crazy). In Latinx culture, it is more than acceptable to gaslight and write off dysregulated family members as shameful, leading to ostracization and removal from family interaction.
In addition, there is a “chancla” culture that is normalized in Latinx households. “Chancla” refers to the normalized use of violent behavior management/discipline by immigrant or first-gen Latine women/ AFAB, using a sandal or flip flop to hit, beat, or hurt children. In the case of the neurodivergent child, the “chancla” can induce fear and feelings of learned helplessness and hopelessness.
“Marianismo” emphasizes the role of women/AFAB (assigned female at birth) as family- and home-centered. This stereotype characterizes the womxn to be passive, self-sacrificing and to be chastite (Gil & Velazquez, 1996; Niemann, 2004).
A “marianista” orientation depicts women/AFAB in nurturing roles and prescribes respect for patriarchal values. Any deviation from this norm can put pressure on the female-identifying Latine to perpetuate unhealthy gender expectations, including not seeking out help for mental health.
In addition, ADHD daughter/AFAB is expected to cook, clean, learn how to run a household, and take on responsibilities well beyond her age and ability. If any struggles arise during these formative years, ADHD daughters/AFAB are called "chillona (crybaby), floja (lazy), desarreglada (messy), ingrata (ungrateful), and malcriada (bad-mannered).”
“Machismo” is a construct of beliefs, expectations values, and attitudes about masculinity, or what it means to be a man/male. These include dominance, aggression, sexism, sexual prowess, and reserved emotions (other than anger), and are representative of the patriarchal system.
In Latinx culture, a man should be a caballero, where he embodies the characteristics of the male gender role such as chivalry, bravery, and family provider attributes. The appearance of weakness is a direct threat to machismo, and can cause pressure to pile up on the male- identifying/AMAB (assigned male at birth) ADHD Latine, giving rise to mental health suffering in silence.
If a Latine male/AMAB experiences misperception of time, rejection sensitivity dysphoria, or impulsivity, they face heavy criticism. They may be reprimanded at work for being late, not following through on projects and ruminating of negative thoughts leading to emotional outbursts rooted in embarrassment and pain of rejection.
It's always tricky navigating cultural identity and gender expectations as a Latine ADHDer-- executive functioning and misperception of time issues get in the way of what it means to be a woman/AFAB in Latine households; machismo, impulsivity, and anger has its grip on Latine men/AMAB who have so much "provider pressure.” - Izzie Chea (@izzieandadhd)
Affirmations for your inner child: Take a few minutes to brainstorm a few simple but powerful affirmations you can write for your inner child.
Dear Ancestors: What would you say if you could write a letter to your ancestors?
Special thank you to Izzie Chea (@izzeandadhd) for helping co-create this blog, and for being such a strong voice representing the ADHD Latinx community.