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Karina: Cultural Stigma

distraught girl

Karina is 12 years old and moved to the U.S. from Central America with her family. Karina goes to a private school in Florida. Most of Karina’s family, friends, and teachers are from Latin America.

Karina has been having a tough time lately. She has been uncomfortable and nervous around people. She becomes bashful, turning red and sweating when other people are around her. She has a hard time talking answering other students and teachers. This gets worse when someone asks her a question. Her troubles with talking made things worse. It gave bullies a reason to pick on her at school.

At first, everyone thought that Karina was just shy. Her family called her “penosa,” which is a Spanish word for shy. But Karina’s worry when speaking or being around others was much worse than that. Even her teachers tried to encourage her to speak in class to get over her “shyness.” Things were really hard for Karina.

One day, Karina’s teacher got fed up with her shyness and asked her to move her desk to the front of the class. Her teacher thought this would help Karina get over the shyness. Karina got upset and was unable to speak. After this, the school called her parents. The principal suggested Karina see a doctor to give her mental health medicine. This type of doctor is called a psychiatrist.

Karina’s mother did not understand this type of treatment. She even thought that mental health treatment would go on Karina’s permanent record. Their culture had taught her mother that mental health treatment was bad. Karina’s mother even told her that getting treatment would stop her from getting into a good college. Karina’s mother was trying to protect her from stigma.

Because of this, Karina continued to have symptoms. Karina did not receive treatment until she was in her early 20s.​

Once Karina got counseling and medication for her social anxiety, she started doing much better. Now, she helps to challenge stigma around mental illness in her community.