Addiction and Stereotypes

Stereotypes Held by Healthcare Providers Affect Substance Abuse Treatment for Hispanics

People of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds are impacted by substance abuse and addiction. Not nearly enough people are treated or treated effectively for these issues, but the Hispanic population in the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to lack of care. Researchers have tried to investigate the discrepancy between this population and others when it comes to addiction care and have determined that healthcare providers often believe in certain cultural stereotypes that prevent Hispanics from seeking help.

The study, conducted at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, calls for better awareness of these issues and how culture and cultural stereotypes prevent many Hispanics from seeking help and caregivers from treating them. Medical professionals need to confront their stereotypes if those struggling with substance abuse and addiction are to get the treatment they need to be healthy and happy.

Caregivers and Hispanic Stereotypes

The study surveyed several providers of behavioral health care, including physicians, nurses, drug andalcohol counselors, therapists and prevention specialists. They all worked in rural areas with high levels of poverty and with significant Hispanic populations. The caregivers were asked to describe why they believe Hispanics who need mental health or addiction treatment might hesitate to get help.

The results of the survey uncovered several common cultural stereotypes of drug addicts that mental health professionals all held. Furthermore, they saw these cultural factors as obstacles to good health and well-being. The first stereotype was that Hispanic families were distrustful of non-Hispanic medical and mental health professionals. The caregivers assumed that they would not be trusted to treat their problems.

Secondly, the professionals believed that stigma was a big barrier and that the stigma of mental illness and substance use disorders was strong in the Hispanic community. They also believed that Hispanic culture emphasized self-reliance and that this value prevented many people from asking for help.

Providing Better Care

From the study and survey it became clear to researchers that cultural stereotypes were being blamed for lack of care when the real culprit was likely socioeconomic status. The communities surveyed had high poverty and unemployment rates, which may better explain less access to care than cultural stereotypes. In order to provide better care for their communities, these caregivers must change their attitudes about the people they serve. Instead of treating cultural differences as a problem, they must realize the impact of poverty and unemployment on people of all cultures.

To provide better care and greater access to substance abuse and mental health care in the rural Hispanic community in particular, caregivers must be better trained to work with Hispanics and to be compassionate, understanding and nonjudgmental. The researchers also called for such practical changes as providing Spanish or bilingual services. Better opportunities for education and employment within the community would also make a huge impact. Providing funding to train and hire mental health and addiction specialists with cultural backgrounds similar to the people being treated could further make residents of these communities feel more comfortable getting help.

It is important to recognize and correct deficiencies in substance abuse and mental health care wherever they are found. Untreated mental illnesses and addictions are devastating to individuals, their families and their communities. When caregivers are trained to not only recognize problems in different cultures, but also embrace and work with the patients, everyone will benefit.

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