Disparities in Mental Health Care for Latinos

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Steven R, Lopez, Concepcion Barrio and colleagues address an important cultural topic in the October 2012 edition of American Psychologist: From Documenting to Eliminating Disparities in Mental Health Care for Latinos.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s report from 2012—Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity—A Supplement to Mental Health: Report of the Surgeon General—documents significant disparities in mental-health care for African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Latino Americans. One finding indicated that immigrants of Mexican origin with mental disorders were less likely to access mental health services than U.S.-born Mexican Americans or the population overall.

The authors note that there has been significant advances in mental-health disparities research for Latinos in the past decade. Two recent studies have noted the prevalence of mental health disorders among Latinos in the U.S.A. One finding was that Mexican Americans were more likely to have recurrent major depressive episodes compared to non-Latino Whites. Mexican Americans received treatment 12.1 percent of the time while whites received treatment 23.1 percent of the time.

Schizophrenia has received limited attention in disparity research even though it exacts a high level of suffering. One early study found a lifetime prevalence rate for Puerto Rican islanders to be 1.6% while it was 0.4% for Mexican Americans residing in Los Angeles. Later studies have suggested these are under-estimates. Further research is needed to identify the full-range of disparities in mental health care.

For many Latinos, families play an important role when one of their members has a mental illness. When they return to a household where individuals are highly critical of them, they are more likely to relapse.

Regarding family interventions, studies show that there are two effective treatments: social skills training with a family generalization aide and a culturally adapted multifamily group intervention. Both treatment prior to their cultural adaptation had garnered strong empirical support.

The authors conclude: “In all, the U.S. Surgeon General’s supplemental report brought much-needed national attention to addressing mental health care for under-served ethnic and racial minority groups. The developments since the report’s publication with regard to Latinos are encouraging not only in terms of documenting and understanding disparities but also in generating hope that disparities can be reduced.”

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