Mental Illness An Epidemic Among U.S. Latinos: Only 1 In 11 Seek Treatment

Lack of access to mental health services is one of the most serious health problems in the Hispanic community, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

While Hispanics are affected by mental illness at rates similar to those of the general population, they become a high-risk group once you take into account the massive disparities in seeking services and in following through with treatment.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2013 “National Healthcare Disparities Report,” less than 55 percent of Hispanic adults - and only 30 percent of adolescents - with a major depressive episode in the previous year receive treatment for depression.

That's the lowest turnout rate among ethnic and racial groups.

Previous data released by the APA in 2001 reported that as few as 1 in 11 Hispanics with mental health issues seek professional care.

“A big reason for this is a lack of insurance,” Dr. Annelle Primm, Deputy Medical Director and Director of the Division of Diversity and Health Equity of the APA, told Fox News Latino. "Hopefully a lot of that has changed with advent of the Affordable Care Act. However, it’s been known for a long time that Hispanics have the highest level of [uninsured] of all the racial and ethnic groups in the country. This is a big barrier to access to mental health care."

According to the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), there are as few as 29 Latino mental health professionals for every 100,000 Latinos.

“Very often in health and mental health centers there is a lack of interpreters and a lack of bilingual psychiatrics and mental health professionals,” Primm said. “It is really ideal to conduct evaluation and treatment plan in the language that is preferred by the individual, there are differences in the information that can be gathered if the evaluation is conducted in English as opposed to Spanish.”

Hispanics and Latinos also have different attitudes towards mental illness and mental health services, often feeling stigmatized for accessing these services.

“[Hispanics often] have a sense of not wanting to be labeled with a mental illness, seeing the problems they are experiencing within the contexts of their family and their community, perhaps even reaching out to the faith community. They have been known to turn to religious leaders for help, as opposed to seeking services from mental health specialists,” Primm told FNL.

According to the APA’s 2010 “Mental Health Disparities: Hispanic/Latinos” report, affected individuals may not recognize their symptoms as ones which require attention from mental health specialists, especially because Latinos tend to view mental illness as temporary.

“There’s so much misunderstanding about mental health issues and a lot of misinformation and just a lack of awareness and knowledge about what mental health problems are, the causes of these problems, and what you can do if you or your loved one is facing one of them,” MaJosé Carrasco, Director of the Multicultural Action Center for NAMI, told FNL.

The opposite ends of the Hispanic population – youth and older adults – are particularly vulnerable to the stresses of acculturation and immigration, which may put them at a higher risk for mental illness.

The APA reports that many older Hispanics find the strain of acculturation overwhelming as traditional values are often at odds with new cultures and languages. Likewise, Latino children have been found to be at higher risk of emotional distress due to the pressure to adopt to American culture as well as possible discrimination, poverty and inequality.

“In a family, when a child is born in the U.S. but the parents were not, sometimes there can be a clash there because the young people have been acculturated to American ways,” Primm said. “Those ways may be [at odds with] the traditional cultural that the family comes from, which also contributes to vulnerability for the young person.”

According to NAMI, the mental health services often provided to Latino and other minorities tend to be of poorer quality than those provided to the white community.

“Unfortunately we are facing disparity at every point, from accessing treatment, from recognizing it, to actually receiving quality treatment,” Carrasco told FNL. “We have a very long road ahead.”