Changing Minds, Advancing Mental Health
for Hispanics



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General Facts:

      Mental illness does not discriminate!

      According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health or brain disorders during their lives, but few will seek or receive help.

      With proper treatment, people with mental illness can lead productive lives and be a vital part of their communities (United Nations 2001, Agency’s Annual Health Report).

      Mental health is fundamental to health.  It is paramount to physical well-being, family relationships and successful contributions to society (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1999).

      Effective treatments are available for most disorders, but Americans do not share equally in the best that science has to offer (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1999).

      Even when help is available, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek professional help, often because of shame (United Nations 2001, Agency’s Annual Health Report).

      Stigma and shame deter many Americans, including racial and ethnic minorities from seeking treatment (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1999).

      Disparities in mental health services exist for racial and ethnic minorities, and thus, mental illness exacts a greater toll on their overall health and productivity (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1999).

      United States 2000 Census data shows people of Hispanic backgrounds are the fastest growing ethnic group in our country.  In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that ethnic and racial minorities will constitute 47 percent of the nation’s population by the year 2005.

      Multiple studies show that in comparison to the majority population, minorities have less access to and availability of care, and tend to receive poorer quality mental health services (Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General). This finding has been found repeatedly when studying use of services by Hispanics.

      Studies show that poor mental health and psychological distress are linked to poverty – In 1999, the overall rate of poverty in the U.S. was 12 percent.  The rates were much higher among most racial and ethnic minority groups (i.e., 23 percent for Hispanics; 24 percent for African Americans; and 26 percent for American Indians). 

      According to Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, those in the lowest strata of income, education and occupation are two to three times as likely to have a mental disorder as the highest strata and often lack health insurance.


      Barriers to minorities seeking treatment include cost of care, societal stigma, and the fragmented organization of services (Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General).  According to the same report, additional barriers include clinicians’ lack of awareness of cultural issues, bias, or inability to speak the client’s language, and the client’s fear and mistrust of treatment.  Many minorities have also been found to have different styles of coping with day to day problems and unique perspectives on mental illness and its treatment

Considerations for Mental Health Professionals:

      According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, culture is broadly defined as a common heritage or set of beliefs, norms, and values.  It refers to the shared, and largely learned attributes of a group of people.

      Mental health workers must be aware of and have an understanding of the wide-ranging role culture plays in shaping what people bring to the clinical setting and how it shapes treatment professionals.

     Mental health workers must consider cultural factors and influence when working with people of all ethnicities and cultures.

     Cultural influences account for variations in the way consumers communicate their symptoms, which ones they choose to report, whether they seek treatment or not, what type of help they may seek, and what types of social support and coping styles are available.

     According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s report, Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity, a supplement to the Surgeon General’s 1999 report on mental health, “Cultural differences must be accounted for to ensure that minorities, like all Americans, receive mental health care tailored to their needs”.

     Also according to the above report, cultural influences have been found to shape treatment professionals, who share a set of beliefs, norms and values with their colleagues.  As a result, clinicians can view symptoms, diagnoses and treatments in ways that diverge from the views of the patients they treat.

Steps Needed to Close the Gap:

     Nationally accepted cultural competence standards must be established and practiced to ensure clinicians have adequate training in working with the country’s diverse groups.

     Additional information is needed to understand the belief systems and attitudes of minority groups and how those beliefs and attitudes impact their decision to utilize or not utilize mental health services, which services they choose to utilize, and at what point they enter the mental health system.  To conduct quality research, funding and qualified researchers who are representative of the target community are needed.

     More effort is also needed to improve geographical availability of mental health services, improve language access, coordinate care to vulnerable, high-need populations through early intervention programs, and to integrate mental health with primary care, where most minorities appear to prefer to receive treatment.

     Efforts must be made to encourage and support racial and ethnic minority group members to enter into and succeed in health care and research professions.  This would address such issues as language barriers and help to increase representation of Hispanics in services utilized by members of this ethnic group.  Having a larger pool of Hispanic health care and research professionals may contribute to the development of professionals more likely to dedicate themselves to providing care in underserved Hispanic communities and/or who may provide their knowledge and skills to advance solutions to health problems faced by Hispanics.

     Public awareness and education campaigns must be developed in order to educate Hispanics about mental health problems and illnesses.  These campaigns must address issues

         Support the development of and expansion of programs available in Spanish for families caring for a person with mental illness. These programs can help reduce the stress and burden experienced by many family members caring for a mentally ill relative.

©2002, New Jersey Mental Health Institute, Inc.





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