Guest column: Andrea Magaña Lewis, Mental Public Policy Officer, Ohio Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs (OCHLA).

Health Needs Unmet in Ohio’s Latino Community  critiques mental health service accessibility for Latinos living in Ohio. This article highlights information from OCHLA’s latest report titled An Overview of Health Care Access in Ohio’s Hispanic Community. 

Hispanics are historically underserved in their ability to access mental health services as evidenced by low utilization rates and gaps in prevention and early intervention efforts. This poses a great challenge for today’s health care system, as Hispanics now comprise a large segment of the population that needs community-specific strategies to reduce disparities in behavioral health. Hispanics are no different than any other population group in their need for mental health services, and it is increasingly apparent for immigrants and their first-generation American children.

 

Major mental health disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder exist in the Hispanic population, however depression and anxiety appear to be among the most prevalent[1]. The Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University conducted the largest study ever on the mental health of Hispanics in the U.S. and found that 27 percent of Hispanics reported high levels of depression and anxiety[2]. Hispanics between the ages of 45 to 64 were 21 percent more likely to have symptoms of depression than individuals ages 25 to 44, and women were twice as likely as men to experience high levels of depressive symptoms. A separate study found that anxiety and depression often led to substance abuse or suicide particularly among Latino youth[3]. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Hispanics between the ages of 10-34[4], and Latina adolescents have the highest suicide attempt rate of all female adolescents at a rate of 15 percent[5].

 

The need for mental health services is evident, but only a small portion of the Latino population utilizes services. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHSA) only 7.3 percent of Hispanics utilized mental health services from 2008-2012, compared to 16.6 percent of Caucasians and 8.6 of African Americans[6]. Estimates of prescription medication use was 5.7 percent, a relatively low number considering 27 percent of Hispanics have reported high levels of depression.

 

Among Hispanic adults with an unmet need for services, cost or insurance (none or inadequate coverage) was the most commonly cited reason for not taking advantage of mental health services[7]. While many mental health services are offered on a sliding fee scale, cost still remains the most significant barrier to mental health care. Structural barriers such as a lack of reliable transportation or the inability to take time off of work are significant barriers to accessing mental health services as well. Likewise, language barriers, cultural stigmas and the underrepresentation of Latino mental health practioners can deter Hispanics from seeking out services.

 

Culturally competent community outreach and education strategies on mental health issues are important steps to combatting the barriers that prevent Latinos from accessing mental health care. Strategies that incorporate community leaders, Latino community organizations and service providers are critical to a successful outreach campaign. Locally, the Ohio Latino Connection (comprised of directors from El Centro de Servicios Sociales, Su Casa Hispanic Center, Adelante Inc, Ohio Hispanic Coalition) and the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission are working to address mental health care barriers affecting Latinos. A current initiative seeks funding for Mental Health Navigator programs in Ohio’s four major cities over the next three years. The concept of a Mental Health Navigator for the Latino community was devised and implemented in Lorain, Ohio, through a partnership between the Lorain County Board of Mental Health and El Centro de Servicios Sociales. Mental Health Navigators are licensed social workers/counselors who are fluent in both English and Spanish, and are tasked with providing mental health screenings, connecting clients to providers and scheduling interpretation for clients. Lorain County has experienced great success in overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers that Latino individuals often face through the navigator model. In its first year alone, El Centro provided service to 479 individuals — 25 percent of whom required interpretation services. The expansion of the navigator model to other cities in Ohio would ease access for Latinos seeking mental and behavioral health services while improving the efficiency of services and reducing mental health disparities.

 

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[1] Ibid. Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Care Disparities.

2 Largest Study of Hispanics/Latinos Finds Depression and Anxiety Rates Vary Widely Among Groups. Albert Einstein College of Medicine. 20 October 2014.

3 Ibid. Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Care Disparities.

4 Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981-2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved: 11 July 2017.

5 Feibel, Carrie. CDC: Latina Teenage Girls at Highest Risk for Attempting Suicide in U.S. Houston Public Media. 5 July 2016.

6 Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use among Adults. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2015.

7 Ibid. Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use Among Adults.

[1] Ibid. Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Care Disparities.

[2] Largest Study of Hispanics/Latinos Finds Depression and Anxiety Rates Vary Widely Among Groups. Albert Einstein College of Medicine. 20 October 2014.

[3] Ibid. Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Care Disparities.

[4] Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981-2015. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved: 11 July 2017.

[5] Feibel, Carrie. CDC: Latina Teenage Girls at Highest Risk for Attempting Suicide in U.S. Houston Public Media. 5 July 2016.

[6] Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use among Adults. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2015.

[7] Ibid. Racial/Ethinic Differences in Mental Health Service Use Among Adults.

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