Hispanic and Latinx individuals make up 18.7% of the US population, totaling more than 50 million individuals nationwide. “Latinx” is a pan-ethnic, gender-neutral label that applies to individuals from Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America. A 2020 Pew Research Center report found that while a quarter of Hispanic individuals in the US have heard of the term “Latinx,” only 3% use it, instead preferring to identify according to their country of origin.
With this, it’s important to recognize that Latinx people are not a monolith. Each country has different cultures, different norms, and different politics, which translate into very different lived experiences. Despite this diversity, Latinx individuals in the US can share cultural elements, such as an emphasis on community, perceptions of masculinity or machismo, and, particularly among recent immigrants, risks of PTSD, depression, stress, and experiences of marginalization.
According to a 2018 SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) report, 56.8% of Hispanic young adults and 39.6% of Hispanic adults with serious mental illness did not access treatment. Cultural stigma and difficulty finding culturally sensitive care, particularly around culture-bound syndromes, are among the barriers Latinx individuals face in accessing mental health care, as is cost. A 2018 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 19% of Hispanic people had no form of health insurance, and census data shows that 15.7% of Latinx individuals live in poverty. With just 5.5% of psychologists in the US providing care in Spanish according to a 2015 APA study, language barriers can also be a deterrent.
While culture varies greatly within the Latinx community, working with a therapist who has an understanding and appreciation of Latin American norms can be important. A culturally sensitive clinician does not pathologize culture-bound syndromes, such as ataque de nervios, or spiritual norms, like talking to ancestors. They might also have an understanding of colorism and, depending on the client’s experience, complexities associated with immigration and documentation status.
Alma member Raquel Carrasquillo, LCSW, spoke about experiences and concerns common among Latinx clients, and strategies for gauging a provider’s cultural sensitivity.
Q: What mental health challenges are important to highlight for Latinx clients?
A: The most common disorders seen among Latinx communities are anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, and alcoholism. However, the larger issue at hand is that Latinos are less likely to speak to a medical professional or seek treatment due to less access to healthcare and stigma around mental health services.
Normalizing mental health treatment is very empowering, as is education around how the mind and body are connected. I often ask my clients about their physical ailments and how quickly they call their medical doctor for an appointment. I then help them understand the mind as being another part of our body that equally needs to be checked on.
I have also found that clients who are concerned with being “diagnosed” find relief in knowing that therapy is confidential and, with minor exceptions, diagnosis and treatment information is protected by HIPAA.
Q: What practices unique to Latinx culture can inform mental health?
A: Latinx culture and traditions are centered around family. Strong bonds between family members create a healthy support system. For many Latinx individuals with immigrant parents, there is a deep respect and strong motivation to excel to make the family proud. Spirituality or religion are also ingrained in most Latinx households and so there is often a source of comfort in faith and a belief in a greater power.
Questions Latinx clients can ask to gauge a therapist’s cultural sensitivity
- Do you have experience working with the Latinx community? Are you, yourself, part of the Latinx community?
- Are you bilingual in Spanish?
- What steps do you take to create a safe space for Latinx clients?
- What is your understanding of oppression in the Latinx community and how it affects mental health?
- What are common themes or cultural values you have found relevant to treating individuals in the Latinx community?