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Many Latino youth face declining mental health amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, a racial/ethnic social justice movement, and economic hardships.
Sadly, many aren’t getting the help they need, either.
About 65% of Latino college students have mental health issues that go untreated, as they are less likely than their white peers to engage with campus mental health services, according to a new study from researchers at University of California, Riverside.
“This means counselors can identify a culturally sensitive, value-driven approach to encouraging greater participation in campus mental health services, instead of focusing only on students’ ethnicity in their outreach efforts” said study senior author Kalina Michalska.
“Given the increasing diversity among U.S. college students, there is an urgent need for universities to develop proactive and culturally informed programs designed to improve mental health support for students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.”
Latino College Students and Mental Health
The UC Riverside researchers theorized that the Latino culture share close bonds with family and feel a duty to assist, support, and respect that family.
The main finding of the report is that a lack of interdependent values and a focus on family-oriented ideals have led to a gap in Latino college students seeking mental health services.
For many, this kind of community can be helpful, but it also can be detrimental.
“Growing up for me, if you went to therapy, it was because there was something wrong with you. So you have the family, the culture pressure, and then your own pressure as a first-generation,” says Benjamin Franklin Pérez, a mental health advocate for college students and Latinos, told KCRA News.
Mental health attitudes were assessed by 35 questions from two questionnaires.
Researchers identified several additional reasons Latino students engaged less with campus mental health services than their white counterparts.
These include discrimination by providers, structural, financial, and linguistic barriers, and cultural values that may impede mental health treatment seeking.
“Because Western culture is more focused on independence rather than interdependence,” Michalska said, “white students may be less burdened by perceived stigma and be more likely to seek out campus mental health services than students who endorse interdependent values.”
Unfortunately, this is not an issue only impacting Latino students seeking higher education, but also those in grade school and preschool.
Latino Students and Mental Health At-Large
Many Latino children endure mental health trauma.
Migration can also impact a Latino immigrant’s mental health.
This often-stressful life change can be devastating when families are separated at the border. And if Latino immigrants are undocumented, they have the additional stress from a fear of deportation or detainment and may struggle to get access to mental health resources.
“22% of Latino youth have depressive symptoms. That is higher than any group besides Native American youth,” according to a Salud America! research review.
Latino children are also less likely to use mental health care services (8%) compared to white children (14%).
Why does this happen?
Latinos face a lack of access to mental health services.
The stigma against mental illness also prevents Latinos from seeking help through mental health services.
“For the Latinx/Hispanic community, mental health and mental illness are often stigmatized topics resulting in prolonged suffering in silence. This silence compounds the range of experiences that may lead to mental health conditions including immigration, acculturation, trauma, and generational conflicts,” according to Mental Health America.
And even when Latinos do seek help for mental illness and suicide prevention, they face many hurdles, like a lack of culturally competent mental health providers, cost, and insurance barriers.
“The Latinx/Hispanic community faces unique institutional and systemic barriers that may impede access to mental health services, resulting in reduced help-seeking behaviors,” according to Mental Health America.
Latino High School Students and Mental Health
America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action teamed up to analyze the high school experience during a historic period of upheaval.
They conducted a national survey of 2,439 people ages 13-19 who were enrolled in U.S. high schools during the 2020-2021 school year.
Researchers wanted to focus on three distinct areas related to health and wellness: mental health and relationships, opportunities to learn about race and racism, and plans for after high school and the readiness to pursue those plans.
“Understanding young people’s current experiences across those areas will be crucial as schools and communities plan their responses and approaches for the forthcoming recovery period,” according to the report.
Additionally, researchers found results about Latino children and their experiences with declining wellbeing in high school.
The survey showed that Latino high schoolers were most likely out of all racial/ethnic groups surveyed to experience poor or declining mental health.
“In addition, Latinx youth were 60% more likely to report feelings of poor or reduced mental health compared to white youth,” according to the report.
What You Can Do for Latino Students
In their recent report, America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action recommend the following steps to help high schoolers:
- Address student mental health, now and on an ongoing basis.
- Teach a comprehensive and accurate history of race and racism in the United States.
- Prioritize postsecondary success through relevant content and pathways planning.
- Saturate young people’s environments with caring adult relationships.
We can also do our part to help Latino teenagers with mental health issues.
Eliminating the stigma against mental illness can be the first step.
“People tend to associate mental health with cosa de locos, I’m crazy, or there’s something wrong with me. It’s so important to normalize the experience,” said Dr. Luz Garcini, psychologist and epidemiologist at UT Health San Antonio.
Having more bilingual and culturally relevant mental health resources is also important. These bilingual materials from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) can help Latinos learn about mental health treatment.
We can also help children who witness traumatic events, like domestic violence or murder.
These kids still have to go to class or carry on while school is out for summer or due to the pandemic. They face a burden of stress and trauma that can interfere with their behavior and grades—and schools often aren’t even aware there’s an issue.
Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack.”
The Action Pack helps police, school, and mental healthcare leaders start the Handle with Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away. They can virtually support kids if school is out for summer or still closed due to COVID-19.