Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. However, your concerns or experiences and how you understand and cope with these conditions may be different.
Below, info from NAMI on the facts about mental health in Latino communities, barriers to care, online and local resources, and stories and insights from community members.
Facts About Mental Health and Latino Communities
Common mental health conditions among Latinos are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and excessive use of alcohol and drugs. Additionally, suicide is a concern for Latino youth.
An estimated 33% of Latino adults with mental illness receive treatment each year compared to the U.S. average of 43%. Without treatment, certain mental health conditions can worsen and become disabling.
Barriers to Mental Health Care for Latino Communities
- Inequity. While Latino communities show similar susceptibility to mental illness as the general population, unfortunately, we experience disparities in access to treatment and in the quality of treatment we receive. This inequality puts us at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions. Find out more about racial disparities in mental health and criminal justice.
- Stigma. Overall, the Latino community does not talk about mental health issues. There is little information about this topic. We cannot know what nobody has taught us. Many Latinos do not seek treatment because they don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions or know where to find help. Others do not seek treatment for fear of being labeled as “locos” (crazy) or as having a mental health condition because this may cause shame.
- Privacy Concerns. Many of us know el dicho “la ropa sucia se lava en casa” (similar to “don’t air your dirty laundry in public”). Many Latino communities tend to be very private and often do not want to talk in public about challenges at home. Seeking mental health treatment doesn’t mean you will lose your privacy. Your diagnosis, treatment plan and discussions with your mental health providers are confidential. They cannot share this information with others without your permission. Furthermore, mental health providers are professionals that understand what you are going through. They will listen without judgment.
- Language Barriers. Language barriers can make communicating with doctors difficult. Many medical professionals today do speak some medical Spanish, particularly in parts of the country with large Latino populations, but they may not necessarily understand cultural issues. If you or your loved one that needs help does not speak English, or does not speak it well, you have the right to receive language-access services at institutions that receive funding from the federal government. You have the right to request a trained interpreter and to receive forms and information in Spanish. Find out more about the need for more culturally competent therapists.
- Lack Of Health Insurance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2017, 19% of people identifying as Hispanic had no form of health insurance. The Affordable Care Act is making it easier and more affordable to get insured. Find out more about health care coverage.
- Misdiagnosis. Cultural differences may lead doctors to misdiagnose Latinos. For instance, Latinos may describe the symptoms of depression as “nervios” (nervousness), tiredness or a physical ailment. These symptoms are consistent with depression, but doctors who are not aware of how culture influences mental health may not recognize that these could be signs of depression.
- Legal Status. For immigrants who arrive without documentation, the fear of deportation can prevent them from seeking help. For example, even though millions of children of undocumented immigrants are eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many families may be afraid to register. If you do not have legal documentation, seek out clinics and resources that care for all members of the community. Latino-based organizations often provide services regardless of legal status.
- Natural Medicine And Home Remedies. Some Latinos may prefer traditional healers and home remedies to deal with health-related issues. Mental health may not be an exception. If these healing methods are important to you, do use them. However, we encourage you to seek a mental health professional or a primary care doctor. Ask your doctor to make these healing practices part of your treatment plan. Mental health professionals have experience and knowledge of effective types of treatments and what may work for you. You may use both approaches in your road to recovery.
- Faith And Spirituality. Faith and spirituality can provide support and help you deal with a mental health condition. If spirituality is important to you, talk to your doctors about how important faith is to you. Your spiritual practices can be a part of your treatment plan. Reach out to your spiritual leaders and faith community. They might be able to provide help and support during the difficult times caused by mental health conditions. At the same time, unfortunately, sometimes faith communities can be a source of additional distress if they are not well informed and do not know how to support families dealing with these conditions.
Resources and Help for Latino Communities
- Fact sheets on mental health en Español from NAMI.
- Our recent NAMI CA State of the Community report on diverse communities.
- NAMI’s Compartiendo Esperanza Program. This 90-minute program aims to increase mental health awareness in Latino communities by sharing the presenters’ journeys to recovery and exploring signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. The program also highlights how and where to find help.
- Compartiendo Esperanza: No Hay Salud Sin Salud Mental Booklet: Through stories and quotes, this booklet provides mental health information in a sensitive manner. Recovery is possible, and this booklet tells you where to find more information, seek help and be supportive. You can preview the booklet for free.
- Support Groups and Classes. NAMI California offers free resources for those impacted by mental health conditions, including support groups and classes in Spanish. Find your local NAMI affiliate to find out more.