As humans, we are all expected to have a dynamic mental and emotional well-being. Patterns can be observed in how certain demographic groups in society experience mental health differently. One particular pattern that warrants a conversation is how Latinx communities experience disparities in their access to information and treatment, the quality of treatment we actually receive and the stigma of mental health. As an example, roughly three out of four Mexican-origin adults with a mental health condition that requires treatment will not get said treatment. Additionally, research has found that Latinx youth experience circumstances, such as stress with their parental relationships due to differences in upbringing, that may increase their risk of mental illness. Reviews have shown that suicide attempts among Latina teenagers are at a higher rate than their Latino male peers and white female peers.
Dr. Diego Garza, MindPath’s Director of Telehealth, points out in a recent panel discussion on “Mental Health in Latinx Communities During COVID-19” that it’s important to remember that within the Latinx community there are a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. So we want to acknowledge with this article that we can only, in this short space, acknowledge the broadest strokes of the topic. We encourage readers to watch the video panel discussion with Dr. Garza, Dr. Karen Melendez, MD of Support Incorporated and Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, CEO of El Centro Hispano which begins to delve into these topics more deeply.
Common mental health conditions that Latinx folks experience include, but are not limited to: anxiety disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, and alcoholism. The stress of these conditions can even lead some to suicide. Sadly, I am personally aware of this latter point, having witnessed a teenage suicide when I was a senior in high school. Although the school had some resources for students when the news of said tragedy was first known, they did not provide additional resources regarding the management of one’s mental health. I think it’s worth noting that my high school population was predominantly of Mexican origin.
Different reasons deter Latinx communities from seeking treatment and quality care for the conditions mentioned previously. In the video panel discussion, Dr. Karen Melendez, a licensed psychiatrist mentions one reason–that of mental health stigma. Dr. Melendez points out also that traditionally [in Latinx communities] mental health is not seen as a real thing.” Additional reasons include lack of information, privacy concerns, shame, language barriers, lack of health insurance, legal status and misdiagnosis. A lot of these reasons have compounding effects, such as legal status. For example, if someone is undocumented, it is likely they lack health insurance and experience language barriers. Additionally, they might be so preoccupied with surviving that they are unable to seek out useful information.
Personally, I have recently been faced by an inequality in the quality of my care. Due to a change in management at my mami’s job, our health coverage has changed in such a manner that we are faced with a high cost deductible that must be paid in full before the insurance steps in and only covers 40% of the accrued medical costs. Additionally, shame resulted in my mami being concerned about my health when I shared with her that I had been seeing a therapist for mental healthcare support. However, this moment gave me the opportunity to have a very much needed conversation with her about the importance about creating spaces to talk about one’s emotions.
There are a couple of things that can be done to alleviate this disparity. For starters, we can advocate for increased cultural competence to decrease the instances of misdiagnosis that are often caused by language barriers and concerns regarding privacy. Secondly, we can be attentive of Latinx friends and family and any symptoms such as sleeping difficulties, changes in appetite, mood swings, negative thought patterns, and lack of concern of one’s appearance. These symptoms can be indicative of a recurring problem that may be helped by mental health support. Remember that it is okay to seek out help when we need it.
For more information on Mental Health in Latinx Communities, watch this panel discussion with with Dr. Garza, MindPath’s Director of Telehealth, Karen Melendez, MD of Support Incorporated and Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, CEO of El Centro Hispano which begins to delve into these topics more deeply.