Hispanic Heritage Month
Mental Health and Hispanic Americans
September 15 begins Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time for us to celebrate the history, culture, and contributions of Hispanic/Latino Americans. Approximately 19% of the U.S. population is estimated to be Hispanic or Latino. But the Hispanic/Latino community isn’t one single thing—it’s made up of people from many backgrounds who share Spanish as a language (Hispanic), or a heritage in Latin, Central, or South America, or the Caribbean (Latino). While we honor the many things the members of the Hispanic/Latino community bring to the country, it’s also a good time to think of some of the challenges they face. One of these is caring for their mental health.
Mental Health and the Hispanic/Latino Community
Hispanic/Latino people in the U.S. are just as likely to have mental illness as other members of the population, but they are less likely to receive treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 35% of Hispanic/Latino adults who need mental health care receive it, compared to the U.S. average of 46%. There are a number of barriers that keep them from receiving the high-quality mental health care, including:
· Language. Many Hispanic/Latino people feel more comfortable speaking Spanish (or another language) than English. But fewer than 6% of psychologists in a recent survey say they can provide services in Spanish. This can make patients feel less comfortable with the therapist, and limit their access to care.
· Lack of Cultural Competency. The culture we’re born, raised, and live in affects our attitudes and beliefs, and can even affect how we describe our mental health. Providers who understand a person’s culture – who are “culturally competent” – are more likely to make an accurate diagnosis.
· Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage. In the U.S., twice as many Hispanic/Latino people as non-Hispanic whites live in poverty, increasing their risk for mental illness. In addition, about 20% of Hispanic/Latino people have no health insurance, limiting their ability to find a provider.
· Legal Status. Being undocumented can make people hesitant to seek help, because they fear deportation or other consequences. However, many orgainzations will provide services regardless of legal status.
· Stigma. Many Latino/Hispanic people are very private and do not talk about mental health issues. They may not want to seek treatment for fear of being labeled or shamed. This type of stigma can not only keep the individual from seeking help, it can carry over to others in the community.
Tips to help you find mental health care
Many Latino/Hispanic people talk to their primary care doctor about mental health concerns. This may be because they know their primary care doctor, or because many Latino/Hispanic people describe their symptoms in a physical way – as tiredness, nervousness, or headaches, for example. This can lead to “underdiagnosis” or even misdiagnosis. While primary care doctors can often provide an initial assessment, it’s best to go to a mental health professional for treatment. But how do you find the right therapist for you?
- Personal characteristics. Think about who you might work best with. Is gender important to you? Age? Therapy is about building a relationship and talking about difficult things. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with someone, therapy won’t be as effective.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of a provider. Think of your first visit as an interview – you want to make sure they’re the right person for the job. Ask if they’ve helped other Hispanic/Latino people, whether they understand your culture, and any other questions you might have.
- Language. If you’re more comfortable in a language other than English, make sure the provider is comfortable in that language, too, or can provide interpreter services.
- Think about how you feel. Therapy isn’t always easy, but you should always feel heard and respected. If a provider doesn’t make you feel like you’re important, they’re not the therapist for you.
- Other factors. There are other things to consider when looking for a therapist. One is the cost—does the therapist take your insurance, or charge a rate you can afford? Another is their specialty – some therapists specialize in marital or family problems, others in working with young people, others in issues such as PTSD. There may be other issues that are important to you as well.
Your EAP can help
If you are having a hard time accessing care because of cost or other factors, contact your EAP. We can help you find a therapist who speaks your language and understands the problems you face, at no charge to you.