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Research Finds that a  Focus on Mental Health is Critical to Improving Overall Health of Latinos

(2005) A report released  by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation, and Leadership Training finds that Latinos are at a disproportionately high risk for depression and other conditions associated with mental illness, and are also much less likely to seek treatment or receive quality culturally- and linguistically-competent care. The report, Critical Disparities in Latino Mental Health: Transforming Research into Action, also provides education and treatment recommendations that would improve Latino mental health.

"Latinos are often reluctant to discuss mental health, but it affects our community disproportionately. When we talk about improving the health of Hispanics and of all Americans, we must address mental health. Only when we begin to see that mental health is as important as physical health will we be able to give these issues the attention they deserve," stated Janet Murguia, NCLR President and CEO.

While the report shows that nearly one in five Latinos living in the U.S. will suffer from major depression in their lifetimes, more than 90% do not contact a mental health specialist and more than 80% do not contact a general health care provider. Lack of knowledge of where to seek treatment and lack of health insurance are major factors associated with the small proportion of Latinos that seek treatment. Another key factor is the disproportionately low number of Latino mental health professionals - who account for less than 1% of all licensed psychologists - as well as insufficient numbers of mental health specialists who speak Spanish and understand Latino culture.

In addition to highlighting the current status of mental health in the Latino community and the factors that contribute to depression, the paper stresses the need to integrate mental health into discussions and treatment related to overall health status. "We are hopeful that this new research will encourage the community, providers, and policy-makers to take steps that will improve treatment of depression and other conditions that affect the well-being of Latinos."

The report provides specific recommendations for policy-makers and those within the health care field to improve mental health treatment, services, and outcomes for Latinos, including:

•  Mental health should be integrated into overall health care treatment and services.

•  Language gaps and cultural barriers must be addressed at all levels, through training and education for providers; increasing the number of Spanish-speaking and culturally-relevant staff at clinics, shelters, and other service areas; and expanding the availability of Spanish-language materials and translation services.

•  Providers and others should collaborate with community-based organizations to expand effective strategies - such as the use of promotores (peer health educators) - and to improve access and treatment.

"Like physical illnesses, mental health conditions benefit from early diagnosis and appropriate treatment. The paper shows that strategies are within reach to increase awareness, access to services, and treatment and that we can take action - especially for our youth - to improve the overall well-being of Latinos and others affected by depression and related diseases," Murguia concluded.

Obtain an executive summary or full copy of Critical Disparities in Latino Mental Health: Transforming Research into Action, and get more information at www.nclr.org.


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