July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to learn more about issues affecting minorities in the United States such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder, among others.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report 25 percent of adults in the U.S. have a form of mental illness, with many of those illnesses the result of other medical issues like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity. Of the people living with mental illness, the majority does not seek help, and people from minority demographics are even less likely to do so.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), reports Hispanics and African-Americans receive limited mental health care than do non-Hispanic whites, and health care disparities are often the result of a cultural stigma surrounding mental health and the need for professional intervention.
“Many Latinos,” said Henry Acosta, executive director of the National Resource Center for Hispanic Mental Health, “who have both physical and mental healthcare needs do not access all of the resources available to them because of stigma, lack of knowledge, and oftentimes our cultural beliefs and attitudes, such as self-reliance.”
NAMI states Hispanics face many mental health struggles including:
- Latinos are a high-risk group for depression, substance abuse and anxiety.
- Latinas (46 percent) are more likely than males (19 percent) to suffer from depression.
- Suicide attempt rates for Latinas in 1997 was 14.9 percent compared to white females at 10.3 percent.
- U.S. born and long-term resident Latinos have higher rates of mental illness than do immigrants.
When treatment is sought, research indicates U.S born Hispanics are more likely to seek mental health assistance from clergy or general health providers rather than specialists, with as a few as one in 11 individuals suffering from a mental health condition seeking specialty care. Among Hispanic immigrants, only one in 20 suffering from a mental health issue seeks care from a specialist.
“When Latinos think of mental illness, they just think one thing: loco,” said to CNN Clara Morato. “[Latinos] don’t want to be labeled, and they don’t want to be labeled as the family with a relative who’s crazy.”
Language barriers have been indicated as a serious hurdle when it comes to mental health treatment, with the Census Bureau indicating one in four Latino households are “linguistically isolated.”
Poverty contributes as well, with studies showing individuals in poverty are 2 to 3 times more likely to have a mental disease than individuals of a higher economic standing. Those in poverty are also less likely to have health insurance, an important tool when it comes to making a decision regarding specialist care.
“If we are able to help them get their Social Security disability benefits, we can then encourage them to seek primary and preventive care, rather than going to the emergency room,” Acosta said. “We save the public money, and everyone benefits.”
With Latinos and other minorities disproportionately affected by mental health issues, education will play an important role in reducing the disparities seen. “These are important social safety nets in place for those in need, and we should do a better job of educating people about eligibility so they know their rights,” said Acosta.
Resources available to minorities include expanded medical coverage through Medicare and Medicaid, initiatives by the Office of Minority Health, Spanish-language information pamphlets in medical facilities, and incentives for Hispanic doctors to set up facilities in Latino communities. The Affordable Care Act is expected to also offer a relief through their funding of new community centers in Hispanic neighborhoods as well as providing health insurance to millions of Hispanics, which would allow them to seek mental health care at no cost.