Barriers to Mental Health Care for Latino or Hispanic Communities

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Hispanic is a “person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race [1] ”. According to the United States Census Bureau [2] , “the Hispanic or Latino population, was 62.1 million in 2020, this population grew 23% while the population that was not of Hispanic or Latino origin grew 4.3% since 2010”. Now that we know what it means to be Hispanic or Latino, do we know how is the mental health of this population?

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, nine main barriers exist to mental health care for Latino Communities:

  1. Inequity: In the language, culture, physical appeareance, etc. For example, four-in-ten Latinos say they have experienced discrimination in the past year, such as being criticized for speaking Spanish, or being told to go back to their home country. On the other hand, nearly four-in-ten Latinos say that during the past 12 months, someone has expressed support for them because they are Hispanic or Latino [3] .
  2. Stigma: Talking about mental health in this community is understood as a synonym of weakness, even calling “crazy” to someone who admits to needing help with their emotional well-being. As psychiatrist Diana Lorenzo, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health [4]  says, “Many Latinos would prefer to ignore these conditions over talking about them openly”.
  3. Privacy concerns: For Latinos, showing their mental health conditions in public, is something that is not contemplated because among the community they feel that they will be rejected or, if they tell their situation to a professional, they will reveal what was discussed, ignoring the reality of the privacy laws that professionals must follow with their patients [5] .
  4. Language barriers: “Spanish-speaking Americans across the U.S. say they have a hard time finding mental health care services in their native language. Only 5.5% of U.S. psychologists say they’re able to administer mental health care services in Spanish [6] ”. “In all, 44.9% of psychologists said they were “quite or extremely knowledgeable” about working with Hispanic patients [7] .”
  5. Lack of health insurance: Latinos are also less likely to receive treatment for depression, anxiety, and other behavioral issues than their white counterparts are [8] . “From 2017 to 2019, the rate of perceived unmet need for mental health services increased by 63% among Hispanic people. The problem becomes more alarming when we consider that at-risk populations, such as the uninsured, undocumented, immigrants, and people experiencing homelessness, are less likely to seek services [9] .”
  6. Misdiagnosis: Cultural differences may lead doctors to misdiagnose Latinos. For example, Latinos may describe the symptoms of a depression as nervousness. These symptoms are consistent with depression, but doctors who are not aware of how culture influences mental health, may not recognize that these could be signs of depression [10] .
  7. Legal status: Undocumented people are usually related to Latinos or Hispanics, because it is a real phenomenon that generates in this population fear of being deported or seeking support with entities as they do not have legal papers for themselves and their families.

This situation is evidenced by the Pew Research Center [11] : “many of the nation’s 60 million Hispanics have immigrant connections. About 20 million are immigrants themselves (though 79% are U.S. citizens), and another 19 million have at least one parent who is an immigrant. As of 2017, Hispanics accounted for 73% of an estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., and a growing number of them came from Central America over the previous decade.”

  • Natural medicine and home remedies: Latino culture is based on seeking a cure through home remedies. However, not everything is resolved in this way, such as mental health, so it is necessary to seek professionals to help cure these problems [12] .
  • Faith and spirituality: This is a primary issue among Hispanics or Latinos, in addition, that it can help through its practices to relieve the soul and therefore generate better emotional well-being [13] . However, when we just stick with it and do not seek professional guidance, the results won’t be accurate. 

A more precise fact is that in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health [14] , among Hispanic subgroups, Mexicans ranked as the largest at 61.4%. Following this group are Puerto Ricans, 9.6%, Central Americans, 9.8%, South Americans, 6.4%, and Cubans, 3.9%.

In summary, 18.3% of the U.S. population is estimated to be Latino or Hispanic, of those, 16% reported having a mental illness in 2019 – that is over 10 million people. The above data provided by Mental Health America also mentions that in this population, older adults and youths are more susceptible to mental distress relating to immigration and acculturation. Mental health issues are on the rise for Latino or Hispanic people between the ages of 12-49. In addition, major depressive episodes increased from 12.6% to 15.1% in this population in the youth ages (12-17) and 8% to 12% in young adults [15] . 

In conclusion, we know that talking about this topic is very extensive because it is a situation that does not stop worsening. However, if we can find solutions together for Latinos or Hispanics, we can help them to take care of their emotional well-being. We remind you that if you are part of this population and need help with your emotional well-being, you can contact Neighbors’ Consejo; we have services free of charge to support you.

















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