While there has been much debate regarding the costs associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), informally known as Obamacare, few can debate the merits of the new health law, especially when it comes to providing care to the more than 6 million uninsured Hispanics in the United States. One area of Hispanic health that will benefit in particular is the realm of mental health care.
Approximately 16 percent of Hispanics self-report an issue with mental health, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, but only one in five Hispanics will seek care with a general practitioner for their troubles, and fewer still–one in 11–will seek the aid of a mental health specialist.
The numbers are concerning given the fact Hispanics are one of the fastest growing populations in the country, and already an approximate one in five people in the U.S. are first or second generation immigrants, with nearly 25 percent of children under the age of 18 having an immigrant parent. By the year 2050, the number of Hispanics in the United States is expected to triple.
This means more people in need of mental health services, and if the disparity continues, that many more people who are going without mental health care.
Prior to Obamacare, only small steps could be taken to address the issue, such as individual efforts to increase culturally relevant care around the country. A number of those efforts involve trying to bridge the communication gap between Hispanics and health care providers.
“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.”
How will Obamacare improve mental health care for Hispanics?
While individual initiatives addressing culturally relevant mental health care have made some headway, the ACA is setting up to make some important changes to mental health for Hispanics starting January 2014.
According to a report from La Jolla Light, Obamacare is focusing on the Hispanic community particularly in the realm of mental health care services.
The law will put forth resources needed to build mental health care facilities in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods, and it will also look to promote a diversification among health care providers so more minority patients will feel comfortable in the health care setting.
In addition to increased access to health care not only through gaining coverage but through more community-based centers, Obamacare could potentially reduce mental health concerns among Hispanics in the first place.
The National Council of La Raza indicates Hispanics tend to work in demanding jobs such as construction, natural resources and maintenance, and because these jobs are often physically demanding, stressful work conditions have often resulted in depression issues.
Now, as access to care improves, Hispanics can feel more at ease in their current professions, thus reducing stress and possibly reducing the incidence of depression rates, which hinder the community.
The efforts of Obamacare will encourage mental health care for Hispanics by increasing awareness and helping reduce stigma through more commonplace treatment.
And while mental health fears are not unique just to the Hispanic culture, language barriers and a lack of awareness regarding illness can make the stigma among Hispanics more potent.
“Community education efforts are important to reduce stigma and the fear of being considered ‘crazy’ by seeking mental health care,” said Shallcross. “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.”
Now, Obamacare opens the door for better mental health care for Hispanics in the U.S., and come January 2014, more than 6 million Hispanics will gain access they did not have previously.