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Mental Health & Substance Use Disorder within the Latinx/Hispanic Community

Reading Time: 4 Minutes

A barrier within the Hispanic and Latinx communities is the stigma of mental health and substance use disorders. Individuals within the Hispanic/Latinx community are often raised to be very “strong” and quiet about their private affairs, such as their mental health, meaning that they are accustomed to not sharing publicly about their addiction or struggles with a mental health disorder. Keeping things hidden can continue the cycle of stigma about substance misuse and mental health within this community. In addition to wanting to keep things private, the Hispanic/Latinx community is often very strong in their faith. They may be fearful that they can be ostracized from these faith-based communities if anyone finds out they are struggling. Unfortunately, the lack of communication and sharing often leads to generational trauma.

Stigma within the Hispanic/Latinx community can also lead to a lack of information as individuals may not recognize the symptoms of mental health or substance use disorders. For example, depression or anxiety often present with headaches, changes in appetite and sleep, and other physiological symptoms that may not be recognized as warning signs of a mental health disorder.

When mental health is not commonly or openly discussed, individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder may have limited knowledge about the types of therapies and medications that can help curb their symptoms. Mental health and substance use treatment providers should use a compassionate and collaborative approach to engage all individuals in treatment planning.

Hispanic and Latinx Identity

Living in a world where you are not sure where you belong and trying to navigate between living in two different cultures: living in America and identifying with their native culture. Hispanic/Latinx communities have an added risk of experiencing mental health disorders because of the stress of discrimination. Identity within the Hispanic and Latinx communities is a mix of complex and rich culture and history. Individuals who identify as Latina, Latino, Latine, or Latinx may identify with Latin American ancestry (Central America, South America, or the Caribbean). The Spanish language is gendered; therefore, the “newer” terms Latine or Latinx are used to eliminate the limiting binary choice (male vs. female) that is excluding to trans or non-binary individuals.

Those who identify as Hispanic may identify with ancestors from Spain or Mexico. Appreciating these differences and understanding how these community members self-identify based on ethnicity, national origin, and race is essential. Individuals of Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, Central American, and South American descent make up this community, and most of the native language among these populations is Spanish. In other words, there is not one distinct Hispanic/Latinx culture.

Risk Factors

The Hispanic and Latinx communities have the same incidence and prevalence of mental health disorders compared to the general population. However, they have more significant disparities in quality and treatment access. As a result, they are less likely to receive mental health treatment than the average United States population. More than 50 percent of Hispanic young adults ages 18-25 with serious mental illness may not receive treatment.

With less access to mental health treatment, the Hispanic and Latinx communities are at a higher risk for more chronic and severe cases of mental health disorders, as studies have shown that without sufficient treatment, mental health conditions often worsen with the potential for a new co-occurring mental health or substance use disorder to appear.

The same trend is seen among substance use disorders in the Hispanic and Latinx communities, except for Puerto Rican men and women. This is due to many unique barriers to care that include language barriers, lack of health coverage, cultural transitions, legal status, and stigma.

Language Barriers

Not knowing the English language or not being fluent in English is often a barrier to seeking treatment, as the individual may be concerned that they cannot communicate with a provider. Even if there is a translator available or if the individual speaks some English, the fear of important topics being “lost in translation” or divulging confidential information to a translator or family member is often burdensome. Therefore, the mental health and substance use treatment team needs bilingual, Spanish-speaking professionals within the treatment center or practice to help break down this treatment barrier. It is also helpful for these providers to ask what the patient’s preferred language is before starting an evaluation and whether it is okay to use an interpreter when necessary.

Income and Poverty

17.0% of the Hispanic/Latinx population in the United States live below the poverty line. This can be due to a lack of education, legal status, and language barriers. Unfortunately, those living in poverty have an increased risk of developing a mental health disorder and vice versa; individuals with an untreated mental health disorder are more likely to live below the poverty line. In addition to facing an already limited pool of providers due to language barriers, the Hispanic/Latinx community has even fewer options if they do not carry health insurance.

Legal Status

For Hispanic/Latinx immigrants residing in the U.S. without official documentation, the fear of deportation can be the sole reason to prevent them from seeking medical care, including addiction and mental health care. In addition, even though millions of children of undocumented immigrants are eligible for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many families either may not know about their eligibility or be afraid to register due to fear of separation and deportation.

AKUA Mind and Body treatment

AKUA Mind and Body is a full-service treatment program that offers a wide range of “east meets west” treatment modalities for many different populations struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. AKUA makes your recovery a priority. AKUA Mind and Body treats co-occurring disorders and works diligently with each client and their family to ensure that treatment is specifically tailored to their needs and not just their disorder.

AKUA Mind and Body offers detoxification, intensive treatment programs, and outpatient treatment programs. AKUA Mind and Body uses a blend of holistic approaches combined with evidence-based treatment to help individuals who have been affected by substance use and mental health disorders recognize their underlying triggers and develop healthy coping skills. Regardless of where you are in your recovery process, AKUA Mind and Body can help.

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