Rethinking Mental Health in the Latino Community

Only 34% of Latinos with a mental illness receive treatment each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The U.S. average is 45%. What’s causing this difference? Some people point to stigma, cultural norms, and language barriers. Others blame lack of insurance and misdiagnosis. Most experts say it’s a mix of all these things.

Mental Health Statistics in the Latino Community

Mental illness rates in the Latino community are similar to the rest of the population. However, among Latinos who experience symptoms of a mental health disorder:

– Only 20% talk to a doctor about their symptoms

– Only 10% contact a mental health professional

– 20% had no form of health insurance, according to a 2019 report

What Prevents Latinos from Seeking Treatment?

Talking about negative feelings is not common in most Latino cultures. Furthermore, discussing personal or family matters with outsiders is often discouraged. Because of this, Latinos may not easily recognize they are experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Cultural Barriers and Mental Health Stigma 

It is important to look at how culture can add to mental health stigma in the Latino community. A lack of understanding and acceptance of mental illness keep many from speaking about their problems and getting professional care.

Mental Health and Gender Roles

Distinct gender roles for men and women are also a strong component of Latino culture. Men are expected to be strong and resilient providers. Women are expected to take care of the family before anything else.

Staying true to these traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity makes it harder to prioritize self-care and mental health.

Immigration and Mental Health

While Latinos have shown perseverance in the face of adversity, moving to the United States can trigger high levels of pressure.

Latinos and other communities who face challenges from the immigration experience and integration process are often at greater risk for PTSD, depression, suicide, and stress associated with “fitting in.” Both documented and undocumented immigrants may also deal with the intense fear of deportation.

What Else Prevents Latinos from Receiving Quality Care?

There’s also a shortage of culturally competent services and resources geared toward Latino people.

The American Psychiatric Association found that minorities and multicultural communities tend to receive a lower quality of care. Factors that might contribute to mental health disparities among the Latino community are:

Language Barriers: The American Psychological Association’s nationwide survey found that only 5.5% of psychologists can provide services in Spanish.

Lack of Insurance: Minority, low-income, and marginalized groups are more likely to be uninsured.

Misdiagnosis: Cultural differences might prevent doctors from recognizing mental health concerns and lead them to misdiagnose a patient.

Overcoming Mental Health Disparities

“It’s important that we develop mental health outpatient services geared toward the Latino population,” said Dr. Richard Zenn, Chief Medical Officer at Vaya Health. But there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Cultural Competency for Better Care

To begin fighting mental health disparities, we need more culturally competent providers. Cultural competence allows health care professionals to better understand how culture affects someone’s health outcomes.

Becoming culturally competent takes time. However, cultural competency will improve and protect the mental health of US minority groups. Here are some steps providers can take to fight mental health disparities and the stigma around mental health in Latino communities:

– Remove language barriers and use cultural insights resources for effective communication

– Collaborate with primary care physicians who identify symptoms and refer patients to mental health care professionals

– Acknowledge the specific challenges of the Latino community

– Educate Latinos about mental health and offer resources

– Recognize cultural barriers and integrate them with appropriate treatments

– Encourage family involvement to alleviate the stigma of mental health disorders

“We also need providers to give assurances of privacy,” Dr. Zenn added. Undocumented patients may fear that their doctor will report them to immigration. “If these patients don’t feel like they can be honest, we can’t help them as effectively.”

Hispanic Mental Health Additional Resources

Learn more about how to fight mental health disparities in Latino communities through these resources:

National Hispanic Medical Association

American Society of Hispanic Psychiatry (ASHP)

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health

Need Help?

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