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Country of Origin Plays Key Role in Depression Rates Among Hispanics

Many mental health experts worry that mental illnesses, like depression, go underdiagnosed and untreated in much of the Hispanic population of the U.S., which is why any research that goes into this issue is so important. A recent study resulted in a report from Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) that outlines rates of anxiety and depression in American Hispanics. In addition to illustrating that under-treatment is a real problem, the report also demonstrates that rates of depression are highly variable and depend on the country of origin of Hispanic individuals.

Mental Health in Hispanics

Previous studies, as well as this most recent one, have shown that in the Hispanic population, mental illness is not being diagnosed as often as it should be. As a result, many people go untreated who could benefit from care. Reasons for the lack of diagnoses and treatment have been suggested, but major ones include the problem of stigma and that many individuals have no access to health insurance or cannot afford care. The HCHS/SOL studies health issues in the Hispanic population and how acculturation affects health. Together with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, they have revealed important new facts about depression in Hispanics.

Depression and Hispanic Heritage

The report from the two institutions demonstrated, as have other studies, that Hispanics are undertreated for mental illness. Also interesting is that the report showed that depression rates vary widely. Rates of depression vary in Hispanics from different cultural heritages. For example, the highest rates were seen in Puerto Ricans. These differences are important to understand in order to better diagnose and treat people with different cultural backgrounds. The Hispanic population in the U.S. is diverse, yet earlier studies on mental illness and depression have focused largely on those individuals of Mexican heritage.

The current report sampled more than 15,000 individuals with origins in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as from Central and South American countries. The individuals surveyed lived in Miami, San Diego, New York and Chicago. The report represented a diverse array of individuals who are members of the U.S. Hispanic population and gave medical professionals and researchers one of the broadest views of mental health so far.

In the entire population, the rate of depressive symptoms was 27 percent. Mexicans had the lowest rate of depression at 22 percent, while nearly 38 percent of Puerto Ricans experienced serious depression. In between these high and low rates was a range of percentages depending on country of origin. The findings suggest that culture and heritage play a role in the experience of depression. It also suggests that those who diagnose and treat depression need to be aware of the impact of country of origin. Understanding a patient’s cultural heritage could help a caregiver provide better and more effective treatment.

Other interesting findings of the study included the fact that Hispanic women are twice as likely as men to have depression. Also important is that Hispanics born outside the U.S. are much less likely to suffer from depression than first- and second-generation citizens. These patterns seen in depression were mimicked by anxiety disorders.

The important lesson from the study is that all people involved in mental health need to be more aware of patients of Hispanic heritage. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are going undiagnosed and untreated in too many people, and the country of origin clearly plays a role in the experience and incidence of mental illness. If health professionals learn from this study, they can help more people get the care they need.

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