Across the country, the mental health concerns of teenagers and adolescents are increasingly urgent. While many families want to support their children and help them get the services they need, some face a variety of barriers to access. For Latinx/Hispanic youth, a group of people who report more mental health concerns than many of their peers, those barriers can be compounded by language, culture, and additional stigma within their families.

How common are teen mental health concerns in the Latinx/Hispanic community?

Mental health concerns can affect anyone, regardless of their heritage. Teens have faced increasing pressures that affect their mental health for many years, and we’ve seen an increase in teens and young adults seeking help for mental health concerns. Latinx/Hispanic youth, however, are receiving treatment at lower rates than their counterparts. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that 7.7 million Hispanic people over the age of 12 in the United States experienced symptoms of mental illness. Of those 7.7 million people, only 35.1 percent received any treatment.

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders among Latinx youths, increasing the risk of suicide attempts. They are also more likely to have experienced traumatic events. Yet there are not many evidence-based treatments available for Latinx/Hispanic teens and adolescents that take into consideration their culture or native language.

What are some barriers to people receiving mental health treatment?

People of every age and background can face barriers to receiving mental health treatment. Some of these barriers include:

  • Cost – Some insurance providers will have plans that help with the cost of mental health treatment, but not all of them.
  • Availability of providers – Finding a mental health provider in an area may be challenging, depending on the number of providers and their appointment availability.
  • Transportation – Not everyone has a reliable source of transportation to get to appointments, though if a provider offers telehealth appointments, they can help reduce the barrier of transportation.

Anyone of any cultural background can experience those barriers, but some cultural communities face additional barriers. In the Latinx/Hispanic community, those barriers can include:

  • Language – Spanish is the predominant language of Latin America. Finding a mental health provider who is fluent in a person’s dominant language can prove challenging.
  • Poverty – According to the most recent census, there were 37.2 million people living in poverty in 2020. Of those, 17 percent were Latinx/Hispanic. Living in poverty can not only create a barrier to accessing mental health, but people who live in poverty are also at higher risk for mental health concerns.
  • Acculturation – Becoming familiar with a different culture can be a challenge for people coming from other countries. Families whose children were born in the U.S. while their parents were born elsewhere encounter the challenge of youths and adults acculturating to the U.S. at a different pace. Often, young people speak English and see the world from an American perspective, while many parents speak predominantly Spanish and see the world only through their own Latin culture perspective.
  • Legal status – Under the Affordable Care Act, millions of children of undocumented immigrants are eligible for health care, which could include access to mental health resources. However, the fear of deportation or separation may keep families from even trying to gain access to these resources. Additionally, undocumented parents with mental health needs don’t have access to mental health services for themselves, which affects child rearing practices and child-parent relationships.

Stigma About Mental Health in Latinx/Hispanic Communities

Another barrier that prevents Latinx/Hispanic adolescents from seeking mental health treatment is the common stigma around mental health. Some Latinx families mistrust the mental health system, and some do not believe in the concept of “mental health.” For others, it can be difficult to accept and manage mental health issues.

Some Latinx families may feel embarrassed or guilty because their child has a mental health need. Others may be afraid of what others will think or of being judged. These feelings may come from the idea that “good and healthy families” should not have these "type of problems”. However, just as anyone can have a physical/medical problem, anyone can have a mental health problem. Physical and mental health are matters for every human being!

A new mental health resource for Latinx/Hispanic teenagers and adolescents

As part of the Child and Family Outpatient Services at Gateway Healthcare, we’ve developed the Mi Gente program, the only evidence-based mental health clinic in Rhode Island devoted to meeting the unique needs of the Latinx/Hispanic youth.

Our program helps Latinx/Hispanic youth ages 12-21 access direct mental health care services. Our program provides short term counseling (3-6 months) for those youth confronting depression and traumatic events. Adolescents and their families are treated within a safe and caring environment that understands their cultural values. We have a personal understanding of Latinx/Hispanic culture and are uniquely qualified to tailor mental health services to the community. To learn more about Mi Gente, visit our website or call 401-729-8701.

Yovanska Duarte-Velez PhD

Yovanska Duarte-Velez, PhD

Yovanska Duarte-Velez, PhD, is a bilingual child and family psychologist with extensive expertise in treating Latinx/Hispanic youth and families. She serves as clinical director of the Mi Gente program, under the oversight of Bradley Hospital Outpatient Services.