MSU Chicano/Latino Studies dual major doctoral degree student shares her experience working with rural migrant school children and their families

December 6, 2023 - Karessa Weir

Content note: This article discusses anxiety, depression, mental health disorders, eating disorders and attempted suicide. 

Chicano/Latino Studies (CLS) dual major doctoral degree  student Rachelle Rosario works with rural and migrant children as a Latinx school social worker. She shared her experiences in a new paper published in Reflections: Narratives of Professional Helping.  

Rachelle RosarioIn the paper, Rosario, a School of Social Work PhD student as well as CLS, shared her experience working with a Hispanic high school student and her mother.

“I had the privilege of interviewing one of the students at my building and her mother, whose experience created a greater personal awareness for my role. I learned the importance of sharing my experiences with the mental health needs of school children living in rural migrant communities,” Rosario wrote. “I learned how a deficit in establishing a relationship with a migrant family could lead to tragedy.” 

The student shared with Rosario that they had developed an eating disorder at age 12. It led to a suicide attempt and treatment at a psychiatric hospital. But the therapist she went to did not speak Spanish or specialize in eating disorders.  

Rosario also shared the mother’s story about finding her daughter after she had overdosed on sleeping pills.  

“The doctor told us it was not likely that she would make it and if she did, she would be a vegetable. Fortunately, after a couple of days, she woke up and looked at us. I began crying and hugging her. I had no idea she was feeling that way, and no one else did either,” the mother said.  
“After she was out of the hospital, she began an eating disorder day program at a nearby psychiatric hospital for three weeks and then we took her to a therapist across town. The therapist could not speak with us because she did not speak Spanish. We did not know what to do and had no one to talk to. She still seemed like she was struggling; she didn’t seem happy, so my husband thought about moving to Mexico to change her environment. In November, we left for Mexico. We lived with my parents in the country in Mexico. My husband had to go back to the US to work and send money. When we were in Mexico, she began going to a school but could not make any friends because they all thought she felt like she was better than them for being American. I decided to put her in a different school and that was better but she still was not happy. She continued to beg me to go back to the United States. It was not easy because neither my husband nor I had documents to go back to the States. After three years we are back and she seems to be doing better.” 


Today, the student is doing well, is employed and getting high grades while receiving support for her mental health, she wrote. 

Rosario reflected on the difficulties this family and many others had in finding resources for families that speak Spanish or are undocumented. This comes at a time when studies are showing significant rises in levels of depression and anxiety in Mexican farm workers and their families.  

However, the families may be reluctant to accept mental health referrals because of cultural reasons or a lack of understanding.  

“One way to combat mental health challenges within the Latinx community is to first understand and respect the cultural differences in order to strive for cultural competence,” Rosario wrote. “Generally speaking, mental health is taboo, and the behaviors related to mental health are often written off as ‘laziness’ or an excuse to avoid something.” 

Rosario says trust has been the key to getting families to open up about mental health issues. Sharing a language and cultural knowledge with students at her school has made the families more comfortable and willing to talk, Rosario wrote.  

She suggests social workers educate themselves on Latinx customs, culture, and language, attend Latinx events and plan cultural activities at the school. Chicano/Latino Studies heavily focuses on cultural considerations and honoring Latinx communities. This emphasis is necessary for schools, healthcare, and any helping agency, working with Latinx community members.

Rosario’s dissertation work centers around mental health education in Latinx Churches. She explores how a  more comprehensive understanding of the attitudes towards mental illness and the cultural and religious values of this demographic is essential to achieve the objective of diminishing mental health disparities within the Hispanic/Latino community. Future treatment interventions aimed at enhancing engagement and mental health literacy should consider the unique cultural and religious needs of this population as well. 
“Finding individuals that have an ‘in’ with them migrant community and forming a relationship with them also provides a starting point to build trust,” she wrote. 

Rosario concludes her paper by stating that she believes the student’s suicide attempt could have been prevented if the school had reached out to the student and provided culturally appropriate support to the student.  

“This situation has forced me to think about ways our school community and I could prevent situations like this in the future with our migrant families,” she wrote.   

Rosario is a second-year dual major  doctoral degree student pursuing degrees in Social Work and Chicano/ Latino Studies. As an individual who holds a deep passion for the Latinx community, she has found that the program in CLS has provided her with more specific and progressive approaches to research and teaching within this community. Specifically, CLS has equipped her with culturally affirming methodologies that she hopes to apply in future teaching and research endeavors in both Ethnic Studies and Social Work.