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Depression Undertreated in Hispanic Communities

Depression is a serious mental illness that requires regular treatment, but one group of people is notgetting the help it needs. A recent study surveyed Hispanic populations in the U.S. and found that those with depression are undertreated. Those without health insurance are particularly vulnerable to struggling with depression and not getting treatment. The findings of the study are important and point to changes that need to be made in the medical community to ensure more people get necessary mental healthcare.

Largest Mental Health Study of Hispanic Community

The survey and study conducted by researchers at the Yeshiva University Albert Einstein College of Medicine is the largest of its kind. The study was completed in conjunction with the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos and looked at a wide range of members of the American Hispanic population. Not only was this study large, but it went beyond other similar studies that focused mainly on Mexican Americans. This study investigated mental health issues in Americans with Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican and Central and South American backgrounds.

Researchers surveyed over 16,000 people between 2008 and 2011. The ages of the participants ranged from 18 to 74 and they lived in Miami, San Diego, New York and Chicago. Survey questions asked about symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders. Participants were not asked if they had been diagnosed, but rather about any symptoms they experienced over the course of three years and any treatment they sought or received.

Depression Common, but Untreated

The results of the study demonstrated that nearly a third of Hispanic people suffer from depression symptoms. The lowest incidence of depression was among Mexican Americans and the highest (38 percent) in Puerto Ricans. What was especially troubling about the study was the fact that treatment was low in spite of the high rates of depression. Only 5 percent of participants reported taking antidepressant medications. The number went up a little for those with health insurance. Among the uninsured, less than 2 percent used antidepressants.

The study also uncovered some other interesting facts about mental health in the Hispanic community. Older people were more likely to be depressed than young Hispanics. Women were twice as likely as men to have depression symptoms. Hispanics born in the U.S. were much more likely to have depression or anxiety than those born in another country.

The issue of untreated depression and anxiety is important. Mental health impacts a person’s life in many ways and problems can be devastating and far-reaching when left untreated. The study shines a light on the inadequacy of treatment in the Hispanic community and points out to all of us where healthcare has fallen short. Correcting the problem will involve a multi-pronged effort.

None of the Hispanics were likely to get treatment for depression, but the uninsured were clearly seenas the most vulnerable. Expanding access to healthcare could help many more people get help. Cost is obviously a barrier if a person suffering from depression has no insurance. Another issue that should be addressed is physician response to depression symptoms. Primary care doctors need to be aware that Hispanics are undertreated and underdiagnosed for depression and anxiety. With that awareness, they will be prepared to look for signs of mental illness that patients may not be aware of.

Lack of treatment is an issue for individuals who are suffering, but it is also a public health problem. We all need to be aware of the vulnerable in our population and do what we can to make sure people who need help get it.

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