What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
OCD Through a Latinx/Hispanic Lens
OCD Through a Latinx/Hispanic Lens
When we talk about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), sometimes we ignore that it can affect people of all races, color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and/or different cultural backgrounds. Culture can influence how someone might perceive and report their symptoms and how a clinician might understand and interpret them.
That means that we need to be aware of our client’s experiences and cultural background and be mindful that it may or not be the same as ours. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that culture and language can impact how OCD is experienced and treated in this community.
The Latinx and Hispanic community is very diverse and comprise of many countries with their own traditions and culture as well as language. It is important to understand that the mental health needs and experience varies but most of them share some common factors such as strong attachment and duty to the family, respect to the elderly, and importance to religion and spirituality.
How do we translate that to work with client’s struggling with OCD in this community? How can we be more inclusive in treatment? What are the important factors to consider when working with individuals of this community struggling with OCD?
I wish I had a straight forward and simple answer to the above questions but instead I would like to invite you to reflect on some of the ideas below, and start implementing them in your own practice. I would like to encourage you to see this blog as an invitation to an ongoing project instead of a checklist. Let’s take the approach of cultural humility and present ourselves as curious to know and understand the client’s family of origin culture, acculturation level, family structure, how mental health is perceived in his/her own family, accommodation of the symptoms, his role in the family, stigma, and shame.
With all of the above, it is beneficial to have an open mind when working with clients from this community and feeling comfortable having one, two or more family members involved in his/her treatment. Latinx and Hispanic mothers for example are usually very involved and protective of their children. If appropriate, mothers and or grandmothers should be invited to participate and understand the role of accommodation of OCD symptoms. It is common for young adults and young professionals in this community to be either still living with their parents or be very close to them so asking for their permission to do a home exposure is a must. Accepting something to drink or eat is viewed as a polite gesture. Hug and kisses are part of the culture as well as asking questions about you and your family. Remember that language can be a barrier for seeking professional help in this community specially for the older generation. Language can also be a barrier if you need to communicate with your clients’ parents. Make sure that you can provide resources in their native language, be patient, speak slowly, use accessible words and lastly ask them if they understand what was said or have questions.
Another relevant aspect is the role of shame for male clients in this community. An important cultural factor is “machismo” and men is viewed as the strong and the provider of the family. For many male Latinx and Hispanic, mental illness is a sign of weakness. Therefore, stigma inside the family is high and clinicians should be asking the client who they would like to be involved in his treatment. When treating members of this community, be aware that many of them do not talk about mental illness at all or outside of the family and most likely will not disclose right away OCD symptoms to you, specially intrusive thoughts. That’s is also true due to fear of deportation, lack of trust in the health care system, public and family stigma, shame and lack of knowledge about OCD.
As previously mentioned, religion and spirituality are very important for most members of this community. This mean that clients in this community struggling with scrupulosity, intrusive thoughts or other OCD symptoms could ended up believing that their OCD symptoms are a sign of spiritual and or moral failing resulting in shame and guilt and preventing them from seeking professional help and evidence-based treatments.
As you can see, there are many challenges when treating clients struggling with OCD in this community. Despite these challenges, it is very important for them to have access to high quality and evidence-based treatments, resources, support groups, education, awareness of OCD symptoms and to increase their representation in OCD research.
Raising awareness of OCD in this community, helping reduce stigma, improving access to care, providing high quality, evidence-based and culturally sensitive treatment will help Latinx and Hispanic clients and their families to receive the help and support needed to improve their quality of life.
This post is presented in collaboration with ADAA's OCD and Related Disorders SIG. Learn more about the SIG.