Depression among Latino youth at an all-time high

Boxer James Leija Jr. reveals his own battle to raise awareness

By Leslie Mouton - Anchor

SAN ANTONIO - Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade are two well-known celebrities who battled depression and ultimately committed suicide.

It's not a problem for the rich and famous, it's actually a growing problem everywhere -- including in the community with Latino youth.  

Salud America, a national advocacy group based in San Antonio, is trying to raise awareness about the problem. 

Now they have a heavy hitter in the community going public with his own battle, in the hopes of helping others face theirs.

James Leija Jr. is the son of famed champion boxer Jesse James Leija. He's also a talented fighter in his own right. He owns his own gym, Rumble Club on Brooklyn Avenue, that offers several classes every day. He’s well known for his fights inside the ring, but he recently revealed another fight he's facing.

“I have one of the closest families I can imagine or see out there and I still felt alone. I was in a hole and I couldn’t get out of really. You have a feeling and you don't know how to stop it so you think ending your life will stop it,” Leija, Jr. said.

Leija revealed his battle with suicidal thoughts and depression on Facebook. He did it to get a conversation started about mental illness.

“I don't really see anyone standing up about this situation. I don't think anyone talking about this, so I figured why not start it?” Leija said.

Dr. Amelie Ramirez with Salud America at UT Health San Antonio applauded the decision to go public.

“I think what James is doing is the right thing because in our Hispanic community talking about any mental health issue is tough, nobody wants to talk about it, and we need to be expressive and find out what's causing those sad feelings,” Ramirez said.

Salud America recently conducted a study that found depression is quite prevalent among Hispanic youth.

“22 percent have suicidal thoughts or depressive symptoms, so this is very concerning to us,”  Ramirez said.

Salud America launched a campaign to raise awareness and encourage kids to get the help they need.

“One third of our kids do not get the clinical services they need or could need and less than half are accessing our services, ” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said kids need to get off the couch and exercising. The study found that one of the best ways kids can cope with depression is through exercise, meaning very rigorous exercis, like boxing, more than twice a week.

“It’s a great way to let out aggression,” Leija said. “But for me, I needed more than exercise, I needed medication and to talk to someone.”  

James said dealing with depression will be on ongoing fight, but he's confident he will win it. And by going public, he hopes others will seek help and realize there is nothing to be ashamed of.

“Come out of that dark hole. You are not alone, more people around you are dealing with this than you think. And suicidal thoughts and depression have no limits to who it can reach,” Leija said.

Leija said he wants to remind people that we all have a role to play in getting help to those who need it.

“Even for parents, look for any signs in your kids.  Ask the hard questions because they might be waiting for you to ask. It’s not worth losing another life because we are afraid to talk about it,” Leija said.

Ramirez said with school starting it's the perfect time to remind everyone that  there is help available for kids battling depression. She encourages kids who feel that can't talk to their parents to turn to school counselors, and community centers for help. 

You can find more information about Salud America and the study by clicking here.

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