Examining Mental Health in the Latino Community

From 2000 to 2014, the Latino population in the United States accounted for more than half (54%) of total population growth, and more than 17% of the total population. But for such a significant portion of the population, Latino communities are underserved when it comes to mental health.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 16.3% of Latino adults in the U.S. are living with mental illness. But only 5.5% of Latino men and 9.2% of Latino women with a mental health condition use mental health services. Many Latino individuals face systemic barriers to treatment, including cultural, linguistic, and financial roadblocks. Here are a few of the central issues:

Discomfort with the American healthcare system. Some Latinos have an inherent distrust of the American medical system and prefer to rely on traditional and home remedies. This distrust, coupled with a pervading desire for privacy, lack of information about mental illness, and rising healthcare costs, keeps people from seeking medical care in all but dire emergencies. One study found that 45% of Latinos in Colorado use home remedies to avoid the high costs associated with medical care.

Language barriers. Latino communities are very diverse, with families hailing from more than 20 countries, but one thing the communities share is the Spanish language. With such a large presence of Spanish speakers nearby, some Latino residents do not need to speak English to live, work, or thrive in their communities. This can, however, affect their receiving quality care. While many medical professionals are required today to have some knowledge of medical Spanish, they still may not have an adequate vocabulary or adequate cultural competency. And while the percentage of Latino psychologists has been increasing, today only 5% of psychologists identify as Latino.

Immigration status. A lack of documentation often prevents Latino individuals from receiving or looking for the mental health care they require. The fear of deportation is pervasive and affects the U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants as well, because undocumented parents are hesitant to apply for health insurance or other aid for their children.

Lack of insurance. Latinos comprise a third of the total uninsured population. Many are self-employed or work in low-paying jobs and therefore do not receive health insurance. Click here for information and resources in Spanish for people in need of insurance. 

For resources and additional information specific to Latino communities, visit the National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health.