Recognizing And Supporting Latino Mental Health: Identifying Challenges And Triumphs

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Formed by people from various nations, races, and backgrounds throughout the Americas, the Latina/Latino community is one of the most diverse communities in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this community represents nearly 19% of the U.S. population (as of 2020), a growth of 23% from the 2010 census. Around 62.1 million people self-identify as Hispanic or Latino, which makes them the second largest group in the country. Despite their representation as a significant population, social, medical, and political inequities remain.

In honor of Minority Mental Health Month, this article focuses on showing how the Hispanic community in the United States still faces many challenges and inequities, particularly regarding mental health care. There are many possible reasons for this reality, including immigration challenges, stigma, invisible disabilities, and cultural clashes. 

In terms of mental health care, this imbalance of power and opportunity remains in the Latino community. Moreover, because the Hispanic community is often uniquely impacted by social, cultural, economic, and other challenges that may worsen mental health conditions, the community can sometimes be especially vulnerable to the consequences of a lack of adequate care.

Mental health in the Latino community

A lack of mental health services does not mean there are fewer mental health challenges, nor does it mean a lack of individuals who may stand to benefit from treatment and inclusion in mental health discourse. That is why it can be crucial to acknowledge and work to address the disparities that commonly affect the Latino community.

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Mental health disparities among Latino individuals

Different rates of mental illness and treatment help illuminate the level of need for mental health programs in many Latino communities and the lack of available resources.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20.7% of all Hispanic or Latino people in the United States experienced a mental illness of some sort in 2020. However, according to the same report, only 36% of Hispanic individuals with a mental illness received the needed treatment, compared to the 52% of non-Hispanic White persons with a mental illness who did receive treatment that same year.

Treatment options

Although many people in the Hispanic community experience mental health conditions, with research showing the most common being generalized anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders—few seek treatment from a mental health provider or have high-quality affordable care options or mental health providers.

Relatively few Latino individuals with mental health conditions receive treatment for their mental health concerns due to several reasons, including financial difficulty. The Hispanic community has one of the highest uninsured rates in the nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.7% of people in the Hispanic/Latinx community do not have health insurance for affordable care, compared to only 5.7% white non-Hispanic Americans. This is likely due to impacts related to ethnicity, immigration, and citizenship status. For example, the Affordable Care Act does not include health insurance coverage options for undocumented immigrants for primary care or other health services.

Additionally, individuals from the Latino community often have few options when it comes to culturally grounded treatments. Culturally grounded treatment options are those that feature other individuals familiar with one’s culture, consider cultural influences on behavior, and work to include elements of culture throughout a care plan. 

There are few Latinx therapists in the U.S., which means it can be challenging for prospective clients to find a professional with whom they genuinely work well and can culturally identify. As a result of all of these factors—lack of insurance, cultural connection, and approachable professionals—research reveals only 9.7% of Hispanic adults over the age of 18 received mental health services in 2019.

Barriers to mental health services for the Latino community

If mental health concerns are relevant and important for the Latino community, why do so few seek the care they need?

According to statistics on previous-year care from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 56% of Hispanic individuals aged 18-25 did not receive adequate treatment for their serious mental illnesses.

The federal government, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Kaiser Family Foundation offer further research and information about people in the U.S. who receive mental health treatment and factors that can reduce the risks of negative outcomes among those in the general population with mental health disorders.

Aside from a lack of financial support, several barriers can make it difficult for Latino individuals to seek therapy. For many reasons, it can be difficult for the Latino community to find a therapist that fits their needs and culture.

Here are some of the most common barriers to mental health care that the Latino community faces:

Language barriers

English-speaking professionals tend to dominate the mental health field. This can potentially get in the way of communicating and providing competent therapy to Latino clients who might feel more comfortable expressing themselves in other languages besides English.

In the U.S., Hispanic people are likely to report communication problems with their health care providers. To support this, research has found that there can be real differences in treatment and evaluation when someone is interviewed in English versus Spanish. Personal challenges can already be a sensitive topic. When these conversations cannot occur in the primary language a person uses to speak and express themselves, it can be even more difficult to put feelings and experiences into words.

Materials are not always available in Spanish and other languages spoken by Latino individuals. There are several languages spoken among the diverse Hispanic and Latino populations. Even though Spanish is the most common language in the Latino community, Latin America is a diverse region with many languages, including Quechua, Nahuatl, Portuguese, French, and many others.

It can help to support families experiencing language barriers and to raise awareness that these official language materials should be available throughout all communities. This includes legal documentation, local and national surveys sent to communities, and treatment plans from health professionals.

A Latino-inclusive office or professional can increase awareness of the Latino community’s different languages, especially as it is very common for families to be bilingual. Therapy for individuals from the Latino community may include other techniques, such as art therapy, that encourage patients to communicate with actions rather than words to help further accommodate this communication barrier.

Cultural barriers

Many therapists are not yet culturally aware enough to treat patients from different cultural backgrounds and faith communities. That means not only misinterpreting an aspect of someone’s culture but also potentially misunderstanding what they mean when describing their symptoms and feelings.

When a person works with therapists who are not well trained and not well acquainted with linguistic or cultural differences, a lack of language skills and cultural awareness can make treatment less relevant and effective.

For individuals from the Latino community, it can help to find a therapist who can comprehend language differences, understand slang or informal terminology, and grasp the cultural and religious beliefs of others. Someone may be able to find these types of therapists through community and faith-based organizations. However, if there are no such organizations in someone’s community, online therapy may be the best setting to get help.

Two teens are lying on a bed, looking up at a camera, and taking a selfie; they are both smiling.
Getty/Xavier Lorenzo


Another common barrier to care is the stigma that some people in the Latino community experience in the context of mental health treatment. Due to cultural beliefs, many people still find it difficult to seek help because they do not feel safe talking about their feelings and mental health challenges with loved ones, let alone with a stranger.

Talking publicly about what one has experienced with family, friends, and even oneself can carry a lot of stigma within some communities. For example, many from the Latinx community might feel that if they look for a therapist, they might look “crazy” (or “loco”), and that could bring shame to their family and friends. Instead, they may keep major depressive episodes, substance use, and other mental health challenges a secret from others.

Few therapists can fully understand this stigma and how it can impact mental health quite like a therapist from the Latino community can. However, professionals of Hispanic origin can be hard to find, which may further discourage hesitant patients from reaching out. 

The public can fight this stigma by investing in public campaigns built by and for Hispanic people. These campaigns can explain why mental health is not something to be ashamed of, how it impacts general well-being, and how mental illness can affect others. 

Providing mental health services to the Latino community

One of the first steps in improving the inequities found in Latinx mental health services may be to include Latinx communities in the development of mental health resource campaigns, with an emphasis on health care providers being of Hispanic descent. Also, medical and mental health professionals can provide the Latino community with alternative solutions and strategies for mental health disorders apart from therapy.

NAMI Compartiendo Esperanza: Speaking with Latinos about mental health

As discussed above, there is sometimes a stigma surrounding mental health in some Latino communities. With this in mind, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) created a bilingual presentation addressing mental health disparities. NAMI also has a guide on talking about it and fighting stigma.

League of United Latin American CitizenS (LULAC) and Latinos Living Healthy (LLH)

LULAC LLH is an initiative that strives to reach the Latinx community in the U.S. and Puerto Rico to address health disparities.

They have three main goals:

  1. To educate and increase awareness among Latino individuals regarding their health
  2. To provide information and resources
  3. To engage local organizations to establish local ambassadors to improve care in each region

The importance of inclusivity in mental health and research

To undo the damage that cultural differences and stigma have done, healthcare workers and researchers can take time to include and consider the perspectives of individuals from minority communities, regardless of legal status in the United States.

Education and widespread support systems (support groups, meeting groups, etc.) may encourage more Latina/o individuals, including undocumented immigrants, to participate in mental health programs.

How to be an ally to the Latino community

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Apart from these solutions that can help bridge the gap in mental health, health professionals can try to build a relationship with their Latino patients to show they are their allies. Mental health professionals can listen and respect the experience of each Latino person. They might speak the same language or come from the same country, but they can have different lives and concerns related to their mental health issues.

Reach out to a supportive counselor

If you’re interested in speaking with a mental health professional but feel hesitant to visit a therapist’s office, you might consider online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be effective for a number of mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression. With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist via live chat, phone, or videoconference at a time that works for you.

If you are looking for a professional who has an understanding of how to better include the Latino community, know that BetterHelp has a network of more than 30,000 licensed counselors, so you can be matched with a counselor who has cultural and/or linguistic knowledge to offer culturally relevant counseling. 

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists.

Counselor reviews

“Eva is a great listener and I love that she’s Latina and she relates to my background. Very informative :-) and supportive.”

Learn More About Eva Mollinedo

“I've struggled with depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts in the past. The rage I've struggled with throughout my life as a response to the sexual, emotional, and physical trauma endured has cost me relationships, jobs, and several times... My freedom. Seeking help with "my feelings" as a man had not been perceived as an option and more so as a Hispanic man. None of this was true and kindness has shown me another path. I've tried therapy several times in the past, but never with any success. Working with Michael has changed many of my old perceptions with his ability to connect on a real level. He has the ability to ask the right questions to get me to ask myself the questions I need to actually self-evaluate. Once I started doing that with his overall approach centered around kindness, for myself first, I could finally be honest with myself about who I want to be….I am not the same person who joined BetterHelp.”

Learn More About Michael Graham


There are numerous ways to improve mental health services for individuals in the various Latino/Hispanic communities in the U.S. By improving opportunities for linguistically appropriate, culturally relevant services, we can make strides in fighting any stigma in these communities and extend services to people who deserve high-quality mental health care.

If you’d like to speak with a therapist about any mental health concerns, you can be matched with a BetterHelp counselor who has cultural knowledge and experience in whatever concerns you’re facing. Take the first step toward improved mental health and overall well-being and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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