Millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions every year. Here are some facts about the prevalence and impact of mental illness.
Latinos are no different when it comes to prevalence of mental health conditions when compared to the rest of the population. However, their concerns or experiences and how they understand and cope with these conditions may be different.
Why Does Mental Health Matter?
Without mental health we can’t be healthy. Any part of the body—including the brain—can get sick. We all experience emotional ups and downs from time to time that are caused by events in our lives. Mental health conditions go beyond these emotional reactions to specific situations. They are medical conditions that cause changes in how we think and feel and in our mood. These changes can alter your life because they make it hard to relate to others and function like you used to. Without proper treatment, mental health conditions can worsen and make day-to-day life hard.
If you feel you or a loved one might be experiencing a mental health condition, remember that these are biological disorders. Anyone can develop a mental health problem. It isn’t you fault or your family’s fault. Seeking treatment can help you live a fulfilled life. Getting help is a way to strengthen yourself and your family for the future.
How Do Mental Health Conditions Affect The Latinx Community?
Common mental health disorders among Latinos are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism. Additionally, Latina high school girls have high rates of suicide attempts.
While Latinx communities show similar susceptibility to mental illness as the general population, unfortunately, we experience disparities in access to treatment and in the quality of treatment we receive. This inequality puts us at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions.
As a community, Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment. A 2001 Surgeon General’s report found that only 20% of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder talk to a doctor about their concerns. Only 10% contact a mental health specialist. Yet, without treatment, certain mental health conditions can worsen and become disabling.
Issues To Consider
Different reasons prevent Latinos from seeking treatment and receiving quality care.
Lack Of Information And Misunderstanding About Mental Health
Overall, the Latino community does not talk about mental health issues. There is little information about this topic. We cannot know what nobody has taught us. Many Latinos do not seek treatment because they don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions or know where to find help.
This lack of information also increases the stigma associated with mental health issues. Many Latinos do not seek treatment for fear of being labeled as “locos” (crazy) or as having a mental health condition because this may cause shame.
Don’t let the fear of what others may think prevent you or a loved one from getting better. One in 5 people is affected by mental illness. This means that, even if we don’t talk about it, most likely, we have one of these illnesses or know someone who does.
Many of us know el dicho “la ropa sucia se lava en casa” (similar to “don’t air your dirty laundry in public”). The Latino community tends to be very private and often do not want to talk in public about challenges at home.
Don’t worry. Seeking mental health treatment doesn’t mean you will lose your privacy. Your diagnosis, treatment plan and discussions with your mental health providers are confidential. They cannot share this information with others without your permission. Furthermore, mental health providers are professionals that understand what you are going through. They will listen without judgment.
Language barriers can make communicating with doctors difficult. Many medical professionals today do speak some medical Spanish, particularly in parts of the country with large Latino populations, but they may not necessarily understand cultural issues.
If you or your loved one that needs help does not speak English, or does not speak it well, you have the right to receive language-access services at institutions that receive funding from the federal government. You have the right to request a trained interpreter and to receive forms and information in Spanish.
Lack Of Health Insurance
Latinos account for one-third of the uninsured. A significant percentage of the Latino population works low-wage jobs or is self-employed. Often these Latinos do not have health insurance.
Cultural differences may lead doctors to misdiagnose Latinos. For instance, Latinos may describe the symptoms of depression as “nervios” (nervousness), tiredness or a physical ailment. 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.
For immigrants who arrive without documentation, the fear of deportation can prevent them from seeking help. For example, even though millions of children of undocumented immigrants are eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, most families are afraid to register.
If you do not have papers, seek out clinics and resources that care for all persons. Latino-based organizations often provide services regardless of legal status.
Natural Medicine And Home Remedies
Some Latinos heavily relay on traditional healers and home remedies to deal with health-related issues. Mental health may not be an exception. If these healing methods are important to you, do use them. However, we encourage you to seek a mental health professional or a primary care doctor. Ask your doctor to make these healing practices part of your treatment plan. Mental health professionals have experience and knowledge of effective types of treatments and what may work for you. You may use both approaches in your road to recovery.
Faith And Spirituality
Faith and spirituality can provide support and help you deal with a mental health condition. If spirituality is important to you, talk to your doctors about how important faith is to you. Your spiritual practices can be a part of your treatment plan.
Reach out to your spiritual leaders and faith community. They might be able to provide help and support during the difficult times caused by mental health conditions. At the same time, unfortunately, sometimes faith communities can be a source of additional distress if they are not well informed and do not know how to support families dealing with these conditions.
- NAMI’s Compartiendo Esperanza is a 90-minute program to increase mental health awareness in Latino communities by sharing the presenters’ journeys to recovery and exploring signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. The program also highlights how and where to find help.
- Compartiendo Esperanza: No Hay Salud Sin Salud Mental: Through stories and quotes, this booklet provides mental health information in a sensitive manner. Recovery is possible, and this booklet tells you where to find more information, seek help and be supportive. You can preview the booklet for free.
- For local Ventura County resources, visit https://www.wellnesseveryday.org.