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Mental health is a rising concern in the United States. For Latina women, the concerns become even more dire.
Research has shown that Latinas receive less mental health care than whites, even if they have insurance. They also report more symptoms of depression and anxiety than whites.
However, what if there was a better way to reach them?
Latina women have a higher than average use of smartphones and the Internet. Technology could be the answer.
A recent study from UCLA found that culturally tailored media programming can encourage Latina women to seek help for mental health, as well as decrease their symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The researchers developed a digital storytelling series featuring a fictional young Latina woman named “Catalina” that is dealing with symptoms of depression and anxiety. The series, entitled Catalina: Confronting My Emotions, was presented as a set of short videos accessible on the Internet.
“The stories include drama, intrigue, tension and romance as Catalina decides whether to seek treatment,” reports UCLA Newsroom. “In one segment, she reflects on her experience after having a very positive session with a Latina nurse-therapist, Veronica.”
In other segments, Veronica speaks directly to the viewer, providing basic information about depression and anxiety, therapeutic exercises, and how to seek help.
Results of the study
Twenty-eight Latina women participated in the pilot study where they followed Catalina’s story through the series.
After a week of viewing, nearly 40% took action to get help for themselves and 82% discussed the content with others. Overall, Participants related to Catalina’s journey and were inspired to take action of their own.
“Family stress levels are certainly affected by maternal depression in Latino populations,” said Dr. Carmen R. Valdez a psychologist working with the study.
Valdez also affirmed that targeted mental health interventions for mothers can improve the well-being and strength of the entire family. Without proper treatment, mental health conditions can worsen and make day-to-day life hard.
How does digital storytelling work?
The creative process of digital storytelling is a popular platform in mental health therapy today. In a world where many people feel alone, watching videos of others sharing their most vulnerable and honest stories can be supportive.
Storytellers record a personal story which conveys an emotional message. Videos are then posted online and can be used to promote dialogue and the safe expression and understanding of people’s different experiences.
With Catalina viewers can watch an online video, and then interact with episodes or videos using a smartphone and social media.
“Storytelling interventions accessible on the Internet via smartphones, tablets, and computers…are private, convenient, and can reach large numbers of people, including Latinas with mental health needs,” reported the study. “This is helpful to women that may not otherwise seek treatment due to fear or stigma.”
“In my previous research, I found that Latina participants were hard-working and dedicated to their families,” said MarySue Heilemann, associate professor at the UCLA School of Nursing and the study’s lead author. “To them, getting much-needed mental health care felt selfish and indulgent. If it doesn’t help the family, they just won’t pursue it.”
The hope with the Catalina digital storytelling series is that it will be used to reach large numbers of English-speaking Latina women to begin the process of seeking help for depression and anxiety.