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Youth are facing a mental health crisis that is so widespread that U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy has issued a new advisory calling it an “urgent public health issue.”
That is especially true for Latino youth.
Let’s explore the mental health challenges impacting Latino youth, and how we can make a difference for these children and teens.
1. Latino Youth Struggle with Suicide and Depression
Depression is the most debilitating health issue in the Latino community, NoStigmas reports.
Around 17.7% of Latinos suffer from depression during their lifetimes.
Only 7.2% of Latinos are diagnosed with depression compared to white Americans.
In addition, suicide is the 12th-leading cause of death for both Latino and non-Latino people of all races.
8.6% of Latino 18–25-year-olds had serious thoughts of suicide in 2018, compared to 7% in 2008.
The CDC reported that that about 4,330 Latino people of all ages died by suicide in 2019. Among those, 2.32%, or 481 people, were younger than 19.
“Research studies have found that Latino youth experience the highest levels of depressive symptoms relative to other racial-ethnic groups in the United States, and among the highest rates of suicidality,” Dr. Gabriela Livas Stein, associate director of clinical training at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, told Psych Central. “These increased symptoms start as early as late elementary school and have been documented into young adulthood.”
2. Latino Youth Suffer from Toxic Stress
Toxic stress is endangering the current and future health of our society.
The risk factors for toxic stress are severe, intense, or prolonged stress, trauma, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) like physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. This can harm a child’s brain and body in different ways.
Unfortunately, 78% of Latino youth suffer at least one ACE, and 28% suffer four or more.
“Untreated ACEs and toxic stress are the root cause of the most common and costly health conditions and they exacerbate inequities in social, economic, and health outcomes for generations to come,” writes Amanda Merck Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. “Untreated ACEs and toxic stress represent an underaddressed public health crisis of our era.”
3. Latino Youth Are Less Likely than Their Peers to Get Mental Health Treatment
73% of whites diagnosed get treatment for depression, compared to just 63% of Latinos. The percentage is even lower for younger Latinos.
“Fewer Latino parents reported that their child had ever used mental health care services (8%) compared to white children (14%),” according to a Salud America! research review.
Despite high rates of mental health illnesses among Latino youth, they are less likely than any other group to receive clinical or school based treatment and are less likely to receive medication, according to the National Register of Health Service Psychologists.
4.The Reasons for Latino Mental Health Challenges Are Complex
Several factors can impact the mental health of young Latinos, including COVID-19, immigration issues, culture and stigma, and the lack of resources.
“There are generational and cultural gaps that create problems in the adolescent trying to fit into the new culture,” Ivette M. Gómez, a licensed mental health counselor in Naples, Florida told Psych Central. “They usually need more freedom and more flexible controls that when not offered by the parents, creates frustration and anger that could turn into depression.”
Young Latinos can face traumatic experiences often times when migrating to the United States and potentially being separated from their parents.
This can ultimately cause mental health issues that deeply impact young Latino people.
“Family is the cornerstone of resiliency for these children, and the parent attachment is critical to the well-being of these children,” said Zoe E. Taylor, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Purdue University. “We forget that teens need their parents, as well, and worry about them. In these populations, teens are used to contributing to the family and the value of family has tremendous cultural significance. These teens may have additional burdens, making this an even more stressful situation, and at the same time, they are often a source of resilience for their younger siblings.”
5. COVID-19 Worsened Mental Health among Latino Youth
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly contributed to disparities within the Latino community such as discrimination, income, and of course mental health.
“Latino adolescents’ mental health and academic performance declined during the COVID-19 pandemic as parents’ job loss and teenagers’ childcare responsibilities increased,” according to a study reported on by The GW Hatchett.
The study further highlighted how COVID-related stressors such as household hospitalizations and income loss increased adolescent childcare responsibility and were associated with increased internalizing and externalizing symptoms and declines in school performance within Latino youth.
“I think that the best thing we can do is to make sure the people who provide care and services to these kids are aware of the impact COVID has had on them so they can make the decisions about their care and their education in a way that is mindful of the significant impact that COVID has had,” David Huebner, a professor of prevention and community health told The GW Hatchett.
6. Immigration Takes a Toll on Latino Youth Mental Health
While U.S.-born young Latinos face many stressors that challenge their mental health, there’s no doubt that young Latino immigrants do, too.
Young Latinos who are immigrants or come from immigrant parents often face challenges in everyday circumstances, such as language barriers and cultural differences.
“Latino youth that have migrated to the US from countries with a history of political and social violence have multiple traumatic experiences,” according to a 2019 study of the impact of traumatic experiences through different stages of the migration process.
Many young Latino immigrants endure trauma prior to migrating from their home country, during migration, and in the U.S. after resettling.
It can be both challenging and intimidating for younger Latinos to leave the place and culture they were born and raised in behind.
Learning and understanding new social cues and adapting to new academic and institutional systems can also be another added stressor.
“Students who feared immigration enforcement most acutely—and who changed their behaviors as a result—had the worst mental-health outcomes. Almost one-third of students in the study had changed their behavior as a result of enforcement fears,” according to a 2020 study.
7. A Lack of Resources Prevents Latino Youth from Addressing Mental Health Issues
Lack of health insurance or inadequate insurance is another factor.
The American Psychiatric Association reported that nationally, 21.1% of Latinos are uninsured, compared with 7.5% of White non-Latinos.
Many low-income Latinos turn to Medicaid to provide health coverage.
According to a Salud America! resource, Almost 37% of Latinos are covered by Medicaid or public health insurance.
Less than 1 in 11 of Latinos seek help from mental health specialist. Among immigrants, this is reduced to 1 in 20.
Among the Latinos who do access mental health care, only 30% return for follow up visits.
Representation also is important.
Increasing the number of mental health professionals who are well-versed in Latino culture and beliefs can help overcome language and other barriers.
NoSigmas reported that only 1% of 596 licensed psychologist APA members identified themselves as Latino.
Taking Action on Mental Health
There are many resources available for young Latinos in need of assistance for their mental health.
Following the U.S. Attorney Generals call to action for a swift and comprehensive response to the youth mental health crisis further exacerbated by the pandemic, many companies and organizations such as Friends of the Children and The Joy Coalition have prioritized youth mental health.
Young Latinos in need of more help can reach the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for English and 1-888-628-9454 in Spanish.
The Trevor Project can be reached at 1-866-488-7386 or by texting ‘START’ to 678-678.
More sharable tools and resources can be found on the U.S. Attorney General’s priorities website page.
How Can You Help Latino Youth?
While there are many barriers and challenges that the Latino community may face when dealing with mental health, you too can contribute to making a difference.
You can also advocate for yourself and your community by downloading a Salud America Health Equity Report Card.
The report card assists in accessing your community data on healthcare, education, health disparities, and other resources.
You can have a voice and advocate for people with mental illnesses by presenting the Health Equity Report Card to your city’s leadership.
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