Being Latinx in the American South

Did you know that the United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world?

People don’t often realize how the Latinx populations have historically influenced numerous aspects of American culture and how they continue to do so today.  This is particularly true throughout the American South and in North Carolina.  We can see this cultural impact in food, music and even some town names throughout the state.

North Carolina is unique in the sense that it has the fastest-growing Latinx population in the country.  We now have almost 1 million Latinx living in the state out of a total population of 10 million, and this number is expected to continue to grow exponentially.  After the 2016 election, Governor Roy Cooper reinstated the State Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs after it had been previously abandoned by Governor Pat McCrory. The intent of this position is to have a liaison for Hispanic and Latinx residents of North Carolina at the state level.  

Yet, we don’t often get the chance to celebrate this culture.  Due to a number of socioeconomic and educational barriers, Latinx individuals are among a number of minority groups that continue to be underrepresented at places of higher education, such as UNC.  While the percentage of Latinx students who attend a two or four-year college is increasing, they may feel isolated or subjected to discrimination when they arrive at college.

Latinx workers in the South also deal with workplace inequality.  While Latinx people in North Carolina are statistically more likely to be employed than other demographic groups in the state, they tend to be concentrated in jobs such as construction and agriculture – in fact, North Carolina is the fifth-most populous farmworker state in the US. These statistics also call into question the working conditions of farmworkers throughout the country.  Latinxs in North Carolina are also more likely to live in poverty, at a rate of about 27.4%.

Latinx residents also participate in the local economy through entrepreneurship.  In 2012, Hispanic/Latinx-owned business made up 4.3% of North Carolinian business firms.  This number is also increasing at a faster rate than the overall number of new businesses in the state.

Yet, it is also important to note the Latinx community is more than its economic contributions.  It is a dynamic community of people from different countries and backgrounds throughout Latin America.


(The motivation for writing this article came from Dr. DeGuzmán’s talk, “Being Latinx in the South”, that took place on campus last week. During the discussion, she encouraged the audience to draw connections between old and new history.  Latinx people have impacted this region even in pre-colonial times, yet we often don’t realize this due to how we tend to whitewash history.)

Author: Veronica Correa

“Just Get Over It”: The Stigmatization of Mental Illness in American Society

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the United States – one in four Americans experience a mental illness every year.  We might think that mental illness is rare, but every one of us has at least one friend, family member, or coworker suffering from a mental health condition.  It affects everyone, regardless of age, nationality, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or religion.

Yet, the topic of mental illness is one of society’s biggest taboos.  We talk about physical ailments with great ease, but keep our mental health troubles to ourselves, anticipating the negative consequences of our admission.  And our silence is a direct result of the stigma surrounding mental health in American society – a mark of disgrace is attached to society’s perception of mental illness, subsequently assigning a set of predetermined beliefs and attributes to those assumed to fall under the label of “mentally ill.”

What is it?

Stigma is loosely defined by the CDC as “the prejudice, avoidance, rejection and discrimination directed at people believed to have an illness, disorder or other trait perceived to be undesirable”.  In terms of mental health, stigma is considered to be the negative attitudes and beliefs that society possesses towards those with mental illness.

Public attitude toward mental illness is largely negative – a 2007 survey found that while 57% of adults without mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic towards those with mental illness, only 25% of adults with mental health symptoms agreed.  Negative public attitudes often take the form of stereotypes, many of which label those with a mental illness as ‘crazy’, ‘irrational’, ‘incompetent’, or ‘dangerous’.

The stigmatization of mental illness in American society places feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation upon those who suffer from mental health conditions.  The stigma attached to mental illness can be described as a campaign of “blaming and shaming”.  People afflicted by mental illness are often blamed for it, their feelings are trivialized and invalidated by microaggressions such as “it’s all in your head” or “just get over it.”

The mental health stigma is often internalized by people with mental illnesses in what is known as a “self-stigma.” Through self-stigma, those with mental illnesses share in society’s belief that their illness is a weakness that renders them ‘lesser’ than those without. As a result, they are reluctant to seek treatment, exacerbating the severity of their symptoms and worsening their condition.

Why is it a problem?

The stigma surrounding mental illness is more than just a stereotype – it’s active discrimination.  Society’s negative perception of mental health problems puts those afflicted at a marked disadvantage, as deep-rooted fear and misunderstanding lead to behaviors and policies that place undue hardship on the lives of those with mental health conditions.  

In America, discrimination towards those suffering from mental illnesses is overwhelmingly systemic.  A person with a mental illness is more likely to be criminalized than receive the help that they need.  A 2010 study found that there are more people with mental illness in jails and prisons than hospitals.  Furthermore, people with mental illnesses have higher rates of homelessness as a result of housing and employment discrimination.

Social discrimination towards those with mental illnesses is especially common – the most prominent example being that of social distancing, or the “exclusion of individuals in a variety of social situations.” As outlined by the graph below, social distancing can present itself in a number of ways – all of which take some form of prejudice and social discrimination.

Image credit: American Psychological Association

How can we combat it?

The best way to end the stigmatization of mental illness is by talking about it.  Stigmas arise primarily from a lack of understanding and awareness about the realities of mental illness.  Those who perpetuate the stigma aren’t doing so maliciously.  They are doing so out of ignorance, and the solution to ignorance is education.  By encouraging people to share their personal stories and struggles with mental illness with others, stereotypes can be counteracted and public attitudes changed.   

Another way to tackle the mental health stigma is by adjusting the language we use when talking about mental illness.  We often don’t realize that the little things we say can be derogatory and invalidating towards those with mental health conditions – for example, using the term “OCD” to characterize an affinity for neatness trivializes the experiences of those who actually suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Image credit: National Alliance on Mental Illness

A person is not defined by their mental illness.  It is not a character flaw or a weakness.  It is an illness, equally as deserving of our attention as diabetes, cancer, and other physical maladies.  Mental illness is something that no one should be made to feel ashamed of, and hopefully, with increased understanding and awareness, no one will.  



Article Written By: Veronica Correa

Dealing with Mental Health On UNC’s Campus

Hi!  I am one of the over 350 million individuals worldwide who lives with depression.  I have dealt with these feelings for a long time, but I found recently that at a large university that can feel so competitive at times, it is easy for these feelings to resurface.  I also deal with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and these two combined can be incredibly difficult to keep up with school and extracurriculars.  The feelings of constant worry and that I have to prove myself or else I could never be successful are overwhelming.  Additionally, depression makes me lethargic, withdrawn from my social sphere, and defeated.  This combination has taken a drastic toll on my physical, emotional, and academic well-being.

Earlier this semester my issues became severe to the point where I ended up in the UNC Emergency Room.  As someone who has always felt uneasy in hospital settings, this experience proved to be unsettling in and of itself.  At a point where I had hit rock bottom, I had no idea what was going on or when I would be able to leave.  I understand that a hospital stay is not meant to be luxurious – yet there is so much more we need to do for mental health care, not just at UNC Hospitals, but as a society.

I am incredibly grateful for the number of students on this campus who do so much work for mental health awareness.  Organizations such as Rethink, who conduct monthly trainings, Active Minds, and the Mental Health Ambassadors program are examples of student organizations who conduct important advocacy work and who try to battle the stigmas surrounding mental health.  It is necessary to realize that some students may come from a background where a lot of stigma came from their families, or they do not have the financial resources to seek care.  From what I have observed, these groups are trying to help everyone in need.

It can also be difficult to keep up with the rest of one’s responsibilities while one deals with a mental illness.  After I was released from the hospital, I realized that taking 17 credit hours, working part time, and the rest of my extracurriculars was too much for me to handle.  My grades were suffering, and I had a hard time keeping up with the rest of my obligations.  I decided to apply for a medical appeal and withdraw from one of my courses after the regular drop deadline for the semester.  During this process, I had to write a statement explaining to the academic committee how I could prevent my situation from happening in the future.  When I spoke to a psychiatrist at CAPS, she said that a good number of psychological appeals get denied because the applicant is unable to elaborate on this.  This was frustrating to me because there are many days where I am not in control of my mental illness.  Even after medications and counseling appointments, I cannot say for certain whether or not I will be able to avoid another severe crisis.  While I wait for the final decision on my application, I will continue to spend the upcoming weeks having to attend my class and do all the assignments for a course I am no longer in due to my mental health.  From the conversations I have had, it feels like UNC itself could care less about students who are seriously struggling.

I have also heard the stories of other students who have been upset and discouraged after seeking help through the school system.  The issues I hear about include having students being turned away for help completely, or they are referred to off-campus providers when they do not have transportation or the financial ability.  While I am very fortunate in that I can access off-campus treatment and get the help I need, not everyone has this privilege.  As a result, people are not able to get the regular help they need on-campus. Even after an initial walk-in at CAPS, it can be a while until somebody is able to schedule a follow-up appointment.  While there is only so much funding available and so many people that are able to work at a given time, but a lack of access can be incredibly detrimental to those who need help.  When somebody hears these negative experiences from somebody else who tried to get help, it can feel like there is nothing else they can do.  The system needs to be accessible and supportive for those who are suffering.

If there’s anything I’ve learned this semester, it’s that a lot of times you get worse before you get better.  I’m still on a long battle uphill, and sometimes I feel frustrated because it feels like I’ve exhausted my resources.  Asking for help is never easy, and it’s hard when you are not believed and turned away.  Despite all of this, I would highly encourage anybody who is reading this and who may be struggling to do so.  I would never want anybody else to close themselves off for so long and to give up on treatment the way I did in the past.

For those who are in immediate distress, there is a 24-hour CAPS hotline at 919-966-2281 in addition to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Article Written By: Veronica Correa