Culture and Stigma Affect Mental Health Care for Latinos

Release Date: March 22, 2011 | By Sylviane Duval, Contributing Writer
Research Source: General Hospital Psychiatry

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Latinos benefit from antidepressants like everybody else — only they do not use them nearly as often. The trick is getting past some cultural barriers.

A study appearing in the March-April issue of General Hospital Psychiatry confirms that the stigma of mental illness, poor communication with physicians and the underuse of antidepressants all play a major part in delaying the recovery of Latinos from depression.

The study authors followed the recovery of 220 Latinos who screened positive for depression at two clinics in Los Angeles County over 30 months. Overall, they found that nearly 70 percent of participants improved, albeit slowly, following a course of antidepressants and with the benefit of good physician-patient communication, but stigma remained an important barrier. Most of the participants were underemployed, Spanish-speaking Latinas with limited education, who had access to health care insurance.

“Doctor-patient communication is often the primary tool for bridging the gap between patients’ perspectives and the biomedical model that underlies medication-based treatments for depression,” said lead author Alejandro Interian, Ph.D., of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Previous studies affiliated with the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research show that only 36 percent of depressed Latinos receive treatment compared with 60 percent of non-Latino whites. Latinos also are less likely to start on a course of antidepressants than whites and more likely to stop before the course runs out.

Sherrie Segovia, Psy.D., the mental health coordinator at the Hope Street Family Center/CHMC in Los Angeles, works predominantly with Latino immigrants. Her experience is consistent with Interian’s results.

“A high number of women receive prescriptions for antidepressants while complaining of headaches, backaches and stomach aches,” Segovia said. “Once confronted with the possibility of mental illness, they are unwilling or afraid to take medication. Some of their beliefs are associated with religion and cultural mores, while others have concerns with the stigma of being ‘crazy’.”

Interian said that skilled physician-patient communication could allay these worries while respecting cultural concerns.

He recommended increasing the number of mental health professionals who speak other languages and understand different cultures, while ensuring that quality care is available to socially disadvantaged populations.

Segovia said, “The challenges from a clinician’s perspective are related to treatment that is culturally sensitive, as many Latinos also suffer from the effects of immigration, isolation and poverty.”

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For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at or (202) 387-2829.

General Hospital Psychiatry is a peer-reviewed research journal published bimonthly by Elsevier Inc. For information about the journal, contact Wayne Katon, M.D., at (206) 543-7177.

Interian A, et al. The long-term trajectory of depression among Latinos in primary care and its relationship to depression care disparities. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 33(2), 2011.

Tags for this article:
Latino and Hispanic Health   Mental Health   Relationships/Social Support   Minority Health and Health Disparities  

Comments on this article
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Heidi says
March 23, 2011 at 3:25 PM

I am not Latina, but this article seems insulting to Latino populations. It is as if the author is insinuating that the Latino population only needs to be talked into taking antidepressants, rather than making an educated decision about taking them. The insinuation that there is something wrong with resisting antidepressants when one presents with somatic symptoms makes it sound like the author is saying that if only they could get past their religion and culture as Latinos, they would be agreeable. This sounds too generalizing and again, rather insulting of this population. Could it be that maybe they know someone who has had a bad expereince with antidepressants? Could it be that they had done some research and didn't like the potential side effects? Sometimes I get the sense that in the effort to be culturally competent, researchers coupled with the press just actually create further division.

Dr. Sherrie Segovia says
April 10, 2011 at 1:56 PM

While I was quoted in this article, I do not necessarily agree that psychotropic medication is the appropriate course of treatment for Latinos. I believe that clinicians must maintain a holistic approach to effectively assess the costs and benefits of anti-depressants. My approach with Latinos has been using non-traditional biomedical methods with a relationship based and social wellness model.