Written by Marina Harris, PhD in Collaboration with Camila A. Pulgar, PhD.
The Latinx community is an extremely diverse group of individuals. The term Latinx refers to people from Latin America, whereas the term Hispanic is more language-focused, referring to people from Spanish-speaking countries. Individuals who identify as Latinx are diverse in race, languages spoken, and country of origin. Further diversifying this group, Latinx people have many intersecting identities, like identifying as LGBTQ+, belonging to different racial/ethnic identities (e.g., Afro-Latinos), and having diversity in immigration status or religious beliefs. Although this group is broad, they have unique mental health challenges that set them apart from other populations.
Latinx people have similar levels of mental health concerns as White populations, but mental health issues are on the rise in Latinx communities. The prevalence of certain issues is increasing steadily, including serious mental illness, depression, suicide, and substance use.
Mental health concerns may also present themselves in different ways in the Latino community. For example, a 2018 study found that Latinx individuals and non-latinx Whites had similar levels of depression and anxiety, but Latinx people showed more functional impairment and more somatic (physical) symptoms. This means that Latinx individuals are more susceptible to physical effects of mental health conditions, and mental health concerns have a greater impact on their day-to-day functioning.
Despite increasing rates of mental health challenges, Latinx people have some of the lowest levels of mental health treatment. This is due to a variety of unique challenges, including high levels of mental health stigma, low access to good mental health treatment, bias and discrimination, and acculturation/immigration stress. It’s important to understand these factors to truly acknowledge how mental health is experienced in this population.
Mental health stigma
Latinos are significantly more likely to talk to their primary care doctor about mental health concerns, but less likely to go to a mental health practitioner. This is likely due to mental health stigma — holding negative beliefs about mental illness. Many Latinos experience significant shame and embarrassment when discussing mental health issues. They are likely to report mistrust of the health system and have unmet needs when it comes to mental health care.
The unmet mental health needs of Latinos are not only about stigma but also because many Latinos lack access to resources for mental health care.
Lack of access to mental health care
According to the American Psychiatric Association, Latinx peoples have very low levels of mental health treatment, despite having similar rates of mental health challenges compared to other populations. This creates a mental health disparity, meaning that Latinx people are suffering from mental health challenges, but not getting the help they need.
There is a lack of mental health professionals who are equipped to work with this population. Latinos are among the most rapidly growing minority population in the United States, but graduate programs do not always prepare professionals to work effectively with Latinx people. There is generally a lack of culturally-sensitive healing practices for Latinos. There are few Spanish-speaking mental health professionals, creating an additional barrier for Spanish- speaking Latinx people.
Latinos also have low levels of mental health literacy. This means the Latino community has a lack of access to knowledge about mental health, and likely finds it difficult to navigate a complicated healthcare system. Adults or parents may not even recognize mental health symptoms in their children or know they need to seek mental health care. All of these challenges contribute to lower levels of mental health care.
Lastly, many Latinos do not have access to good health insurance. Although numbers have improved, Latinos are twice as likely as non-latinx Whites to be uninsured. This can be due to a variety of factors, including poverty, immigration status, and language; individuals with less financial resources or who are Spanish-speaking are less likely to have access to health insurance. Unfortunately, these factors prevent Latino individuals from getting the mental healthcare they need.
Psychological effects of immigration and acculturation
Emigrating to a new country is a major life stressor that requires significant long-term adjustment. Although Latinos are extremely resilient, they still feel significant stress from immigration.
Acculturation stress refers to the challenges of adjusting to a new culture. These challenges can be emotional, physical, or psychological, and negatively impact mental health. Effects of acculturation and immigration trauma include:
- Financial stress
- Poor living conditions
- Emotional disorders like PTSD, anxiety, and depression
- Racism and discrimination
- Internalized bias
- Family conflict
Many individuals in the Latinx communities are coping with these stressors.
Bias and discrimination
Racism is a chronic stressor for the Latinx community and leads to significant psychological distress and negatively impacts mental health. Racism is traumatic and can lead to certain
psychological challenges like PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Latinx adolescents or immigrant
youth may be particularly vulnerable to negative messages of racism, bias, and discrimination
because their identities are still developing.
Further, Latinx people not only experience racism on an individual level but also on an
institutional level. Institutional racism prevents access to basic needs like affordable housing,
education, and healthcare. This creates another barrier to receiving good mental health care.
The takeaway on Latinx mental health
In summary, Latinx populations contend with many complex factors that make it difficult to get
the mental health help needed. This vulnerable community needs additional resources specially
tailored to meet their needs.
Latinx Mental Health Resources
Need to connect with a therapist? Camila Pulgar is a bilingual psychotherapist and owns Salud Mental Health, an organization dedicated to Latinx mental health. Through Salud Mental Health,
you can also find additional Latinx therapists providing mental health care to the Latinx
Latino Mental Health Organizations
There are several Latinx mental health organizations that can provide information and resources
for Latinx individuals.
- National Alliance for Hispanic Health (NAHH)
- Mental Health America (MHA)
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- There are also several organizations dedicated to supporting Latinx mental health providers and
- National Hispanic Medical Association
- American Society of Hispanic Psychiatry (ASHP)