New Study Shows a Lack of Spanish-Language Mental Health Services for the Latino Community

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Talking about mental health in the Latino community is complicated. Between religious beliefs, cultural taboos, and lack of resources, opening up the conversation at the dinner table is not at all easy.

However, our mission as new generations has been to break generational curses that have done so much harm to us and our loved ones.

But what happens if resources start to become scarce at the same time we see the impact of mental health issues on our families?

According to a study published last week in the journal Psychiatric Services, between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of centers offering mental health treatment in Spanish declined by nearly 18 percent, resulting in a loss of 1,163 Spanish-speaking mental health centers.

Using national data from all known specialty mental health treatment centers, the study also illustrated epidemiological trends for centers offering Spanish-language services.

Between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of facilities offering Spanish-language services declined in 44 states, and this decline was most marked in states with the fastest-growing Latino populations.

These numbers are particularly troubling considering that Latinos account for more than half of the total population growth in the United States over the past ten years and that the total Latino population surpassed 60 million people in 2019.

“These population changes have precipitated new and evolving demands on the health care system, which are nuanced and driven by a range of factors,” the researchers explained, “including fluency in English and Spanish, immigration and documentation status, being first or second-generation residents in the country, and exposure to trauma-related to racism and discrimination.”

The impact of visibility of mental illness

According to an analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, between 2015 and 201, rates of serious mental illness in the Latino population increased by 60 percent (from 4.0 percent to 6.4 percent) among 18-25-year-olds and by 77 percent (from 2.2 percent to 3.9 percent) among 26-49-year-olds.

A similar trend between 2015 and 2018 has been observed for the prevalence of major depressive episodes among Latinos aged 12 to 49 years, which increased from 8.4 percent to 11.3 percent. In a study based on data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, more than one-third (34 percent) of Latino respondents reported at least one day of poor mental health in the past month (mean=3.6 days), and 11 percent reported frequent mental distress.

However, despite the growing need for mental health care among Latino populations, utilization of mental health services remains low in these populations. Utilization of mental health services is low among all racial-ethnic groups and particularly low among Latinos compared to whites. 

What is the solution?

According to the researchers, culturally responsive care, which incorporates an understanding of culture and language into clinical mental health practice, may be one strategy to increase treatment uptake in Latino populations.

A treatment provider’s proficiency in the patient’s primary language improves communication and allows for a more nuanced and personal discussion. With the growing Latino population in the United States, the lack of Spanish-speaking providers is a significant barrier to health-seeking behavior.