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Rethinking Mental Health in the Latino Community

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 16, 2020 — 5 min read
Only 33% of Latinos with a mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 43%. Stigma, access to care and language barriers are a few of the reasons for this disparity in mental health care for this group. 

Many communities face unique challenges that can make access to mental health care more difficult. July is Minority Mental Health Month and a time to reflect on the reasons for Hispanic mental health disparities and ways to overcome them. 

Mental Health Statistics in the Latino Community  

Mental illness rates in the Latino community are similar to the rest of the population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), common mental health conditions among Latinos are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use. 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 
  • And 19% had no form of health insurance, according to a 2018 report

What Prevents Latinos from Seeking Treatment?  

Similar to other ethnic minority groups, talking about negative feelings is not a common part of the culture. Stigma and negative perceptions of mental health illness keep members of these communities from speaking about their problems and getting professional care.

In the case of Hispanics, being diagnosed with a mental illness may cause shame. Also, discussing personal or family matters with outsiders is not common and sometimes is even discouraged within the culture. In that context, Hispanics may not easily identify the symptoms of a mental health disorder or recognize that they are experiencing them, according to findings by NAMI

Cultural Barriers and Mental Health Stigma 

It is important to take a look at culture and how it contributes to mental health stigma in the Hispanic community. For example, when going through a challenging time, Hispanics might prefer to seek help from other sources, such as general medical care or spiritual leaders.

Some might turn to religious practices or homemade remedies to cope with negative emotions. While faith communities are important and can provide support, they lack the professional experience and knowledge of effective treatments for mental health conditions.

Distinct gender roles for men and women are also a strong component of Hispanic culture. Men are expected to be strong and resilient providers. At the same time, 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 and optimism in the face of adversity, moving to the United States can trigger high levels of pressure.

The immigration experience and the process of integration can become a source of mental health problems. Latinos and other immigrant communities who encounter these challenges are often at greater risk for PTSD, depression, suicide, and stress associated with acculturation or fear of deportation. In addition, barriers created by discrimination and marginalization can lead to a missing sense of belonging, and the adoption of unhealthy behaviors such as substance use and eating disorders

What Prevents Latinos from Receiving Quality Care?

Besides the cultural stigma associated with mental illness, the lack of culturally competent services and resources also represent a barrier to accessing proper mental health care.

According to the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), minority beneficiaries report worse mental health functioning and more symptoms of depression. However, minorities and multicultural communities tend to receive a lower quality of care. Some factors that might contribute to mental health disparities among the Latino community are:  

Language Barrier  

In a nationwide survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), only 5.5% of psychologists said they can provide services in Spanish. Bilingual or linguistically trained mental health professionals are essential to understand the Latino community’s needs and culture. 

Lack of Insurance

Minority, low-income and marginalized groups are more likely to be uninsured. In the case of Hispanics, low rates of insurance coverage are likely to be a function of immigration or citizenship status.

Misdiagnosis  

Afraid of being labeled as crazy or ill, Latinos might indicate depression or anxiety in terms of physical symptoms. However, cultural differences might prevent doctors from recognizing mental health concerns and lead them to misdiagnose a patient.   

Overcoming Mental Health Disparities  

Cultural competence can allow health care professionals to understand the cultural influences that might affect someone’s health outcomes.

Becoming culturally competent is a work in progress that can improve and protect the mental health of minority groups in the United States. Here are some steps to overcome mental health disparities and the stigma around mental health in the Latino community:
  • Remove language barriers and learn cultural insights 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
  • Use resources available to increase your cultural competence 

Hispanic Mental Health Additional Resources 

Need Mental Health Help Fast?

Call **ASK (star-star-2-7-5) from your cell phone or 1-800-939-5911.


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