When it comes to Hispanics and mental health, one of the main issues is that of depression. The National Alliance on Mental Health explains that Hispanics born in the United States or those who have lived in the country for a long period of time are at a higher risk for depression than Hispanics who have recently immigrated. Foreign-born Hispanics are also less likely to participate in behaviors linked to depression such as substance abuse.
The same pattern has been observed with suicide rates among foreign-born Mexican-Americans. Those born outside the U.S. have a significantly reduced probability of attempting suicide or developing depression symptoms, compared to acculturated or U.S. born Mexican-Americans.
A study from Stanford University found that depression in Hispanics is highly correlated with how long they’ve been in the United States. Those Hispanics who immigrated at an older age show lower risks of developing depression symptoms compared to those U.S. born or who arrived between ages 0 and 17. Only 8 percent of Hispanic immigrants who have been in the country for less than 13 years, suffer from depression – compared to the national rate of 20 percent.
Study researchers attribute the lower incidence of depression cases in recent immigrants to their stronger ties to their culture and family, which would serve as a support system. “Latinos have very strong bonds between each member of the family, which, in spite of economic, educational, and lower socioeconomic status, help them move forward despite the obstacles and struggles that they may have,” read the study conclusion. “As Latino immigrants acculturate over time, stress levels rise and the children begin to lose their connection to their parents and develop an American lifestyle (…) This increases their chance of experiencing depressive symptoms and ultimately developing depression.”
What is depression?
The Mayo Clinic defines depression as a “medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest,” though depression can manifest with physical symptoms as well.
Beyond just simple sadness, depression is chronic, and affects how a person behaves, thinks, feels and functions. Many people with depression experience negative changes in their day-to-day lives, such as a lack of interest in previous hobbies, loss of appetite, and mood changes.
Other symptoms include:
- Constant feelings of sadness or despair
- Reduced sex drive
- Intense frustration over minor issues
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of motivation
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Unexplained crying bouts
- Headaches and other physical issues; unexplained pain
Who is at risk for depression?
Anyone can become depressed, explains the National Library of Medicine, but some groups are more at risk than others. No one knows what causes depression, but many experts believe it is due to a chemical changes in the brain often triggered by traumatic events. Other people may be genetically predisposed to depression.
Those most at risk include:
- People on certain medications (thyroid supplements, cancer therapies, steroids)
- People with issues of substance abuse, including alcohol consumption
- People with sleeping issues
- People suffering a traumatic event (relationship loss, death of a friend or family member, divorce, job loss)
- People in minority demographics
- People with serious and chronic illnesses
- People with a family history of depression
How is depression diagnosed?
As with many mental conditions, depression involves an in-depth question-answer session with your doctor or therapist. Doctors will often run a number of physical diagnostics to make sure there are no other medical conditions contributing to depression.
Some issues, like a brain lesion, can cause similar symptoms but require a very different treatment route.
What is the treatment for depression?
People with mild depression often benefit from the use of antidepressants or from talk therapy with a psychologist or mental counselor. Those with severe depression may need both forms of treatment or care in a psychiatric facility if feelings of suicide are present. Psychiatric facilities are also beneficial for people who have lost much of their daily function to depression.
Once a person has a depressive episode, they should be aware another incident is likely. Family and friends of those who tend to fall into depressive states should also be aware of this and be proactive in reaching out when signs start to appear.
The National Library of Medicine recommends the following to help decrease an individual’s risk of recurrent depressive episodes:
- Exercise – 3 times per week for at least 30 minutes. Any physical activity helps.
- Maintain a sleep protocol.
- Surround yourself with positive people and stay in touch with family and friends.
- Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
- Volunteer in organizations to help others.
- Keep up with activities you enjoy.
- Recognize the signs and be proactive before dwelling on depressive thoughts.
- Eat a healthy diet, especially when feeling “down”.