Why Latinos need culturally relevant mental health care

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Latinos need culturally relevant mental health care or they will be at increased risk for mental illness

Many latinos do not seek mental health care because of cultural stigmas (Shutterstock)

With approximately 39.9 million immigrants in the United States, the American Psychological Association (APA) indicates mental health services are, and will continue to reach a growing number of adults and children from different cultural backgrounds. Approximately one in five people residing in the U.S. is a first or second generation immigrant, and nearly 25 percent of children under the age of 18 have an immigrant parent.

Latinos, as one of the largest and fastest growing minority populations in the country, are of particular focus when it comes to the area of mental health. With the Latino population in the U.S expected to triple by the year 2050, and the inclination of Latinos to shy away from mental health services, experts are placing an emphasis on the need for culturally relevant mental health care.

“Due to the increasing numbers of monolingual and bilingual (Spanish speaking) members of the U.S. population, according to U.S. census data, it is important for mental health professionals to provide culturally relevant treatments in order to be most effective in successful outcomes,” Robin L. Shallcross, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Licensed Psychologist at the Pacific University School of Professional Psychology, told us. “When these services are provided in fluent Spanish, without the need for an interpreter, we find Latinos will seek out and remain in treatment in greater numbers than when services are provided only in English.”

Immigrant Latinos often face a number of stressors, Shallcross indicates, including depression, anxiety, relationship troubles, family troubles, deportation stress, poverty and acculturation stress.

Acculturation stress is particularly difficult for Hispanic families with monolingual parents and bilingual children, and creates difficulty adjusting to North American culture.

According to a report from the APA entitled “Crossroads: The Psychology of Immigration in the New Century,” immigrant parents and children increasingly live in different cultural worlds, and immigrant parents often have little concept of their child’s life outside of the home. This puts increasing pressure on children to find outlets for problems and issues immigrant parents may not be able to provide adequate advice for.

Even with the increase of stressors for immigrants and access to Spanish-speaking professionals, many Latinos neglect seeking mental health care services due to the stigma which surrounds such issues.

According to Shallcross, the negative connotation which accompanies “mental health” is a cross-cultural issue, and is something which could be eased through community education efforts.

Acculturation stress can be hard for children of immigrants.

Acculturation stress can be particularly difficult for children (Shutterstock)

“Community education efforts are important to reduce stigma and the fear of being considered ‘crazy’ by seeking mental health care,” she explained. “We would like to see a time when all members of our communities, regardless of where they originate from or live now, can come forth to ask for help out of courage and strength…not fear or shame. The American Psychological Association has public information written in Spanish and English on their webpage to help explain a variety of diagnoses and available treatments.”

The APA recommends culturally relevant mental health care evolve into three broad dimensions which encompass: therapists’ cultural knowledge, therapists’ attitudes and beliefs toward culturally different clients and self-understanding, and therapists’ skills and use of culturally appropriate interventions. This includes granting clients easy ways to access tools such as interpreters and legal assistance, as well as facilitating community outreach programs.

Community networking is vital to bringing more Latinos into the care of mental health professionals. Shallcross told us, research including community needs assessment is important to determining which treatment methods will best serve the Latino population in the United States.

Interdisciplinary care between medical facilities is also necessary, according to Shallcross; there should be a seamless transition between hospitals, churches, schools and mental health care centers when it comes to making sure Latinos receive the care and information they need regarding mental health.

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