Depression and anxiety disorders are among the most prevalent mental health conditions among Latinos. Suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 70 percent higher than for white girls in 2009, non-Hispanic whites received mental health treatment two times more often than Hispanics in 2005, and Latino soldiers have about a 10 percent higher rate of PTSD after returning from deployment than their white counterparts. And as the Latino population grows, health leaders agree that there is an increased demand for focused efforts to effectively reduce mental health disparities and achieving health equity, and the best way seems to be community outreach.
Today, the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities announced the results of a two-year study that offers solutions for reducing mental health-care disparities among Latinos. The report is based on input from more than 550 Latinos who participated in community forums conducted in 13 cities and two high schools throughout California.
“Untreated mental health needs are a very common problem, creating significant individual and family burdens and reducing quality of life and productivity,” said lead author Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and director of the Community Engagement program at the UC Davis. “Through this report, we have gathered and engaged community voices that have previously not been heard.”
Rachel Guerrero, one of the presenters of the study, says that after working 22 years at the state department of mental health, she really got to see the good, the bad and the ugly.
“This project is the largest national single investment in this kind of community approach- going back to the communities to ask what works,” says Guerrero.
She says one of the findings is many Latinos don’t know they have the right to mental health care services.
Aguilar-Gaxiola adds that teaching early intervention is key, because many symptoms are able to be identified by age 24.
“Many don’t return for a second time,” he adds. “Issues of culture and language play a role.”
Lali Moheno, who participated in one of the community forums for the Latino mental health-care disparities report, grew up in Texas in the farm fields and today she is a health activist in Visalia, Calif. She says she knows first hand what it was like to grow up without insurance and medical care.
“We had two or three family members with mental health issues,” she says. “We didn’t know there with psychologists. We had to give them tea, or a hug. The family was a little bit embarrassed, but we didn’t want to institutionalize them. The best thing we ever did was finally find a Latino psychologist – Dr. Montalvo – he too, was a farm worker at one time.”
When she went door to door to talk to Latinos directly to find out what their needs are, she says what she found the biggest issues to be are that 70 percent are still uninsured, a lack of culturally aware doctors in the area, a lack of transportation to clinics, and a lack of education in the community.
“Of utmost importance is to accept mental health and work with it,” says Moheno. “There is a tremendous lack of trust.”
Norma Abrego provides a critical role of bridging community needs between patients and healthcare providers. She uses her degree in social work to figure out the best way to integrate the community into the world of mental health by using cultural events like a posada during Christmas time. She says she even got a mental health counselor to coach a soccer team.
“It’s important to find out what it is the community wants,” says Obrego. “We are here to assist them.”
Aguilar-Gaxiola says it’s important to remember that even though mental health problems occur more frequently in environments of poverty, violence, and child adversity, we must remember that Latinos are about strengths as well.
“We are to be more open to listen and follow up…using their strengths in community-based programs,” he says.