Recognizing And Supporting Latino Mental Health: Identifying Challenges And Triumphs

Updated January 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Formed by people from various nations, races, and backgrounds throughout the Americas, the Latinx community is one of the most diverse communities in the United States. According the U.S. Census Bureau, this community currently represent 19% of the U.S. population, a growth of 23% from the 2010 census. Around 62.1 million people self-identify as Hispanic or Latinx, making them the second largest ethnic or racial group in the country. Despite their representation as a significant population, social, medical, and political inequities still remain.

In honor of Minority Mental Health Month, this article is focused on showing how the Latinx community in the United States still faces many challenges and inequities, particularly regarding socioeconomic status, education,  job opportunities. There are many 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 Latinx community. Moreover, because the Hispanic community is uniquely impacted by social, cultural, economic, and other challenges that may worsen mental health conditions, it is especially vulnerable to the consequences of a lack of adequate care. 

Mental Health In The Latinx Community

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

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Mental Health Disparities Among Latinxs

Different rates of mental illness, treatment, and other related ideas all help illuminate the level of need for mental health programs in the Latinx community and the severe lack of available resources. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.4% of all Hispanic or Latino people in the United States, experienced a mental illness of some sort in 2020.  In that same report, only 35% of the 11.5 million received the treatment they needed compared to the nearly half of non-Hispanic White persons who did receive treatment that same year. 

Psychiatric Disorders Rates

General figures suggest that Latinxs have a lower risk of developing a mental health disorder when compared to non-Hispanic people in the U.S. However, those that are US-born are more likely to have a serious mental illness than those who have immigrated recently.

The so-called “immigrant paradox” refers to the fact that while many immigrants face stressful challenges linked to their economic, political and social status, they still tend to be in a better mental health situation than those who were US-born.

This reality suggests that being born in and living permanently in the U.S. (and the racism, stigma, and lack of equality that coincides) presents a unique challenge for Latinx communities.

Latinx children, adolescents, and young adults, likewise, are statistically more likely to develop psychological stresses than non-Latinx white children. When compared to non-Latinx white and non-Latinx Black individuals, Latinx adolescents report higher levels of self-deprecating thoughts and experience more instances of severe mental health symptoms, some of which can lead to hospitalization or inpatient care.

Treatment Options

Although many people in the Hispanic/Latinx community undoubtedly face mental health conditions – research shows the most common being generalized anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use disorders (drug use) – few seek treatment from a mental health provider or have good, affordable care options or mental health providers. 

Relatively few Latinx people with mental illness receive treatment for their mental health issues due to several reasons, including financial. The Hispanic or Latinx have 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 regarding affordable care, compared to only 5.7% white non-Hispanic Americans. This is likely due to inequities 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, Latinxs have fewer 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 patients 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, lack of cultural connection, and lack of approachable professionals—research reveals only 9.7% of Hispanic adults over the age of 18 received mental health services.

Barriers To Mental Health Services For The Latino/Latina/Latinx Community

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

Keep in mind that research shows:

  • More than half of Hispanic people aged 18-25 will not receive adequate treatment for their serious mental illnesses.

The federal government, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and Kaiser Family Foundation also offer further research and information about people in the U.S. that 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 or seemingly impossible to seek Latinx therapy. For many reasons, it can be difficult for the Latinx community to find a therapist that fits their budget, needs, and even their culture.

Here are some of the most common barriers that the Latinx community faces regarding receiving mental health help:

Language Barriers

The reality is that white, English-speaking professionals tend to dominate certain sectors of the mental health field. This can potentially get in the way of communicating and providing competent therapy to Latinx patients who might feel more comfortable expressing themselves in other languages besides English.

In the U.S., Hispanic people are indeed more likely to report communication problems with their health specialists. To support this, research has found that there are real differences in treatment and evaluation when one is interviewed in English versus Spanish or Portuguese. Talking about personal issues can already be a sensitive topic; when these conversations cannot occur in the primary language we use to speak and express ourselves, it is even harder to put feelings and experiences into words. 

However, Spanish language materials are not always available in every setting. It is important to support families dealing with language barriers and to raise awareness that these official language materials should be available throughout your community. That includes for legal documentation, local and national surveys sent to community, and treatment plans from health professionals. 

It is important to note that there are several languages spoken among the diverse Hispanic/Latinx populations. Even though Spanish is the most common language in the Latinx community, it is not the only language spoken. Latin America is a diverse region with many dialects and languages apart from Spanish, including Quechua, Nahuatl, Portuguese, French, and many others.

A Latinx-inclusive office or professional should be aware of the Latinx community’s different languages, especially as it is very common for families to be bilingual. Latinx therapy may include other techniques, such as art therapy, that encourage patients to communicate with actions rather than words to help further break down this communication barrier.

Cultural Barriers

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

For example,  which translated to English means “nervousness.” When working with therapists who are not well trained and not well acquainted with different cultures, these differences and lack of cultural awareness can make treatment less relevant and effective.

That is why it is important to find a therapist who can comprehend language differences, understand slang or informal terminology, and grasp the cultural and religious beliefs you have. You may be able to find these types of therapists through community and faith organizations. However, if there are not faith organizations you connect with in your area, online therapy may be the best faith-based setting to get the help you need.

Stigma

Another significant barrier is the stigma that the Latinx community still holds against mental health treatment. Due to cultural aspects, many Hispanics and Latinxs still find it difficult to seek help because they do not feel safe talking about their feelings and mental health struggles to loved ones, let alone a stranger.

Talking publicly about what one has gone through with family, friends, and even oneself carries a lot of stigma within some Hispanic people, especially those in more conservative regions. 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 disorders and other persistent forms of mental health issues a secret from others.

Few therapists can fully understand this stigma and how it impacts Latino mental health quite like a Latinx/Hispanic therapist can; unfortunately, as discussed, these professionals with Hispanic or Spanish origin can be hard to find, which further discourages hesitant patients from reaching out. Stigma is also why general mental health campaigns and research ought to strive to include Latinx people and Americans with Puerto Rican background.

Latino mental health services do not have to be all about finding a therapist. One can also tackle this stigma is to invest in public campaigns built by and for Hispanic people that explain why mental health is not something to be ashamed of,  how it impacts general wellbeing, and how mental illness can impact others. Nonetheless, therapy is one of the most versatile treatment options out there, reminding patients to keep an open mind can help the entire process feel less intimidating.

Providing Mental Health Services To The Latinx Community

The first step in improving the inequities found in Latinx mental health services is to include Latinx communities in the development of mental health resource campaigns with an emphasis on health care providers being of Hispanic descent. Alternatively, professionals and primary care doctors can provide the Latinx community with alternative solutions and strategies for mental health disorders apart from therapy.

NAMI Compartiendo Esperanza: Speaking With Latinos About Mental Health

As discussed, there is a lot of stigmas surrounding mental health in the Latinx community. That is why looking for a therapist or even engaging in therapy are not always plausible solutions to help with mental health awareness with this group.

With this reality in mind, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) created a bilingual presentation addressing key topics of mental health signs and symptoms. They also have a guide on talking about it and fighting stigma and other resources useful for professionals.

League Of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Latinos Living Healthy (LLH)

LULAC LLH is an initiative that looks 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 Latinxs regarding their health.

  2. To provide information and resources.

  3. To engage local actors to increase impact in their communities.

Though this initiative does not provide traditional Latinx therapy options, it does do a lot of work to bring approachable treatment choices and information to communities that need it most.

The Importance Of Inclusivity In Mental Health And Research

Unfortunately, having a large population is not enough. To undo the damage that cultural differences and stigma have done, healthcare workers and researchers must take the time to include and consider the perspectives of minorities, regardless of legal status in America.

Education and widespread support systems (support groups, meeting groups, etc.) are perhaps the easiest and most wide-reaching ways to encourage more Latinx’s, including undocumented immigrants, to participate in mental health programs.

Bridging The Gap In Mental Health Treatment For Latino/Latina/Latinx People

Aside from following the aforementioned goals, here are three straightforward ways that health professionals can help bridge the gap in mental health treatment for Latinx people:

Language

Though it may not be necessary to become bilingual, having a basic grip on patients’ language(s) can go a long way in making them feel comfortable and heard.

The client should feel comfortable speaking their feelings and worries in the language they are more used to. A good tip for Latinx therapy is to consider trying out translation tools or utilizing techniques like art therapy that don’t require words.

Making an effort to expand teletherapy to the Hispanic/Latinx community, or perhaps even advertise these services more heavily to the community, can help spread awareness and make it easier for those who need therapy to find something that works for them.

Values In Action

Speaking the language and offering affordable therapy should also accompany the ability to comprehend anyone’s values and customs, even if they seem different from those you are used to.

Keep an open mind and be willing to talk through different cultural and social norms, expectations, and limitations.

How To Be An Ally To The Latino/a/x Community

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

Being prepared and ready to work with the Latinx community is essential for inclusive mental health services. Online therapy offers several benefits for Hispanic clients who are hesitant in attending in-person therapy due to stigmatization within their community, cultural incompetence on the part of the therapy provider, and accessibility. For example, a study published in the International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling examined the attitudes of Latino/a college students toward online counseling. The participants reported that they felt positively about online therapy especially due to the comfort level in being able to choose a therapist with a similar cultural background and an intimate understanding of the nuances of asking for help in the Latinx community. If you are looking for professionals that have this background and notion of how to better include this community, online platforms such as BetterHelp have a long list of qualified professionals to choose from. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists.

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

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“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 have 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 an 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. My experience with Michael has been nothing short of life alternating. I am not the same person who joined Better Help.”

Learn More About Michael Graham

Some commonly asked questions on this topic can be found below:

Do Latinos believe in mental health?

How are mental health needs viewed in Hispanic culture?

Why do Hispanics not talk about mental health problems?

What role does Hispanic culture play in depression?

Why is mental health taboo in South American and Central American countries?

Why Latinas are the best?

Are Latino parents strict?

How do Hispanic beliefs affect health treatment?

What is machismo culture?

What does  Latinx stand for?

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