On Being Mexican and Having a Mental Illness

I have been wanting to write on this topic for what seems like ages, but have not had the courage or will. Now, I have both. I come from parents who emigrated to the US when they were both very young, fleeing the poverty they grew up in. For that, I am a million times over thankful and appreciative. Why? Well, not just because of the economical advantages I have benefited from and the public university system I attended here in California, but for the public health system. Yes, there are many complaints about the current mental health system in the US, and across its various states, but all in all, I am so grateful.

I imagine that if I had had a manic episode like the one I had in 2006 in Mexico instead of in the US, I would either be in a penal facility or worse, dead. Why? Because in the town where my parents are from, presumably where I would have been raised, there are no psychiatric wards, only hospitals, jails, a military post, and lots of armed police. And as a I tend to be aggressive and violent when confronted while in a manic state, I can assure I would more than likely be dead. I can almost guarantee this because my actions would probably be construed as those of a drug addict, rather than a mentally “insane” person.

In addition, this lack of mental health care in Mexico further facilitates the stigma around mental illness in this country, and the mystery that shrouds MI. It is so profound and extreme, this mystery, that my own parents, after my Bipolar I diagnosis in 2006, insisted that I was under a witch’s curse. They did not stop to ask themselves if MI ran in their families, or if perhaps I was really suffering from a chemical imbalance as the psychiatrist explained. Oh no. It was witchcraft for sure. They even sent a picture of mine to a known witch doctor in Mexico so he could “diagnose” me. The result: a friend of mine who frequented cemeteries had put a curse on me. They questioned me various times to see which friend of mine visited cemeteries, and my answer was always the same, “None of them, leave me alone.”

Yes, the state of mental health in the US is not the greatest, but it far surpasses that of Mexico, particularly the small towns where education and awareness are not present. I am sorry to say this, and I am sure that in the larger cities, it is a different situation, but it has been my experience that it is not so in small towns; and Mexico is comprised of mostly small towns.

The reason why I wish this were not so is because I lost an uncle to suicide, and he presumably, also had Bipolar I. He was living in Mexico at the time, was never formally diagnosed, but his behavior and actions have led me to believe he was in a Manic episode followed by a Depressive state when he committed suicide. He was under the care of a regular physician who did prescribe him medication, but the rampant stigma of being labeled as “crazy” as a Mexican adult man caused him to not take any of the anti-psychotics or anti-depressants that I believe could have saved his life, or at the very least, prolonged it.

Therefore, with confidence and sorrow, I can say that it is a sad state of affairs in Mexico with regards to mental health. People would rather not be healthy and take medication, than be labeled as “crazy” by friends, family, neighbors, even the very doctors who treat them. I wish I could say otherwise, but for the time being, I am so very grateful for the decision my parents took at age 17 to emigrate to the US and have me in this country where I am able to receive adequate mental health care and medication. Yes, there is stigma here, but I am healthy and am able to function with some degree of “normalcy” as long as I take my meds.