Latinos and African Americans are less likely to receive adequate mental health care services when compared to non-Hispanic whites, according to research published in the journal Health Services Research.
What’s more, in addition to having shorter treatments, Latinos are significantly less likely to seek mental health services to begin with, which supports earlier study findings.
“We found that Blacks and Latinos [remain] in care, including using outpatient services and filling psychotropic drugs, for a shorter time than whites,” said lead study author, Benjamin Le Cook, Ph.D. M.P.H., assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in a statement.
According to the report, only 27 percent of Latinos in need of mental health care services sought treatment, compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Cook explained those Latinos who do make it in for treatment have episodes of care which are much shorter in duration, and the reason for this disparity cannot be fully explained through the current study.
Researchers do feel, however, that treatment for Latinos may improve if more of them sought out care. An increase in the number of Latinos actively seeking mental health care services would likely bring awareness to many issues affecting this group and make doctors more aware of the special needs—like language services—many Hispanics need.
Barriers to mental health care for Latinos
The low number of Latinos seeking mental health care is “old news”.
Hispanics face barriers to care such as poverty, low levels of education, language barriers, and fear of social stigma. Unfortunately, according to the data presented in Health Services Research, these barriers limiting access to care are likely the same barriers that interfere with the care received.
The dilemma is, however, that in order to get Latinos in for mental health care in larger numbers, more culturally-relevant care must be provided. But without more Latinos seeking care, how will doctors become familiar with this ethnicity’s needs?
“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 Saludify.
“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.”
Experts agree that one way of reducing the disparity is through community health care workers; bilingual individuals who can help Latinos seek the care they need and facilitate necessities like transportation and translation services.
Health care expansion provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will also likely help reduce the mental health disparity; however, without culturally-relevant care, increased access to coverage may not be as beneficial as hoped.
“While insurance increases mental health access, adequacy of care is low for those with and without insurance and a number of insured individuals fill and refill psychotropic medications without any patient follow-up,” Erica Ahmed, director of public education at Mental Health America in Alexandria, Virginia, said in the Health Services Research statement. “These problems are not likely to be eliminated after insurance coverage expansion.”
When it comes to mental health, education and community outreach continue to be the missing links for improving Latino care.