Depression is a common mental health condition that affects many people globally. Many factors can influence and contribute to depression. Similar to other cultures, within Hispanic culture, some elements have the potential to prevent or exacerbate symptoms of depression.
The term Hispanic typically refers to people whose ancestry originates from Spain or Spanish speaking countries. In the United States, the Hispanic community is very diverse and may face many disparities that can contribute towards negative mental health outcomes.
In addition to these barriers, certain aspects of Hispanic culture, such as possible stigma towards depression and mental health challenges, may also lend to mental health complications.
In this article, we will discuss the role of Hispanic culture in depression and suggest where Hispanic people may find mental health support and resources.
Depression refers to a mood disorder involving a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Evidence from the
Research notes that roughly 18.3% of the U.S. population are Hispanic, and of this population, more than 16% reported a mental health condition in the past year. Research from Mental Health America states that major depressive episodes increased among Hispanic people between 2015 and 2018 with:
- an increase from 12.6% to 15.1% in Hispanic youth aged 12–17
- an increase from 8% to 12% in young adults 18–25
- an increase from 4.5% to 6% in adults 26–49
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America adds that major depression is a common mental health condition among Hispanic people. While this community displays a similar susceptibility to mental health conditions as the general population, they experience health inequities that affect the way they receive mental healthcare, such as the accessibility and quality of treatment.
Mental health conditions exist within all populations. However, certain factors may increase their prevalence in Hispanic communities. Some elements of Hispanic culture may prevent or exacerbate symptoms of depression. Additionally, barriers may exist that prevent people from accessing adequate mental health services and support.
Familismo is a large component of Hispanic culture that emphasizes the importance of family relationships. Research on this concept is
A 2019 study suggests a possible explanation depending on the strength of the familial connections.
For example, those who hold stronger beliefs toward support have better mental health outcomes. However, those that experience conflict exhibit more symptoms of depression. Having numerous obligations and mounting pressure within the family unit may contribute to depressive symptoms.
Religion is typically another important component in many Hispanic families. Evidence suggests that a
There is not much research associating religion and mental health in young or middle-aged adults. However, research notes a potential link between a lack of religiosity and depressive symptoms in older adults. However, this may be due to having less social interaction and support.
While it may provide some mental health support, religion may also negatively affect outcomes due to perceptions. For example, some people may perceive depression as a spiritual problem and not a medical condition. As a result, they may not seek the medical support they require.
Taboos and stigma
There is a perception in some Hispanic communities that it is inappropriate, embarrassing, or shameful to discuss mental health problems.
Potential stigmatization may cause people to try and conceal symptoms of depression due to a fear of ostracism. Some people may also worry about potential consequences of depression, which they fear may make them unable to support their family and undesirable.
As a result, many people may be less likely to discuss any difficulties. Additionally, as they may have little information on support, they may not actively seek treatment.
As Hispanic culture is complex and diverse, it is vital to understand the importance of identity to some people. Cultural identity is a social construct that refers to a sense of belonging to a group based on cultural categories. This again may support or negatively affect mental health.
Acculturation is the process of assimilating to a different culture and is
However, in some cases, being bicultural and bilingual may be protective for mental health as it provides more resources.
Attitudes and expressions
Cultural differences may lead to misunderstandings and misdiagnoses regarding mental health. It may also cause people to experience culture-bound syndromes, which refers to mental health conditions unique to specific cultural populations.
For example, Hispanic people may use phrases such as “ataque de nervios” to describe symptoms of intense emotion or “mal de ojo” which refers to a hostile gaze that may cause people to experience symptoms of depression.
For doctors not familiar with how culture may influence a person’s interpretation of symptoms, it could result in confusion and a misdiagnosis.
Many barriers, inequities, and disparities exist that may make it difficult for members of the Hispanic population to access proper mental healthcare. Some of these factors may include:
- language barriers
- poverty and less health insurance coverage
- legal status
- a lack of specialized or culturally competent healthcare professionals
- a reduced ability to identify the symptoms of mental ill-health due to a lack of information or understanding
- acculturation to the U.S.
Depression, and other mental health conditions, may be a problem in Hispanic communities due to the stigmatization people may experience and difficulties in accessing treatment.
A 2019 study highlights that Hispanic populations access mental healthcare at a rate that is roughly half that of non-Hispanic white people in the U.S. Other
Due to the fear of discrimination from both their peers and the health system, they may not seek the help they require. This puts them at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions, as without treatment, they will typically worsen.
However, a 2019 study notes that culturally adapted depression education may be beneficial in increasing the understanding of depression, reducing stigma, and increasing treatment engagement among Hispanic populations.
It is important for mental health professionals to remember that cultural humility and competence is important for providing quality care. Speaking with a mental health professional that understands Hispanic culture can help a person feel heard and respected.
It is advisable for a Hispanic person to go directly to a mental health professional or ask their doctor for a referral. Community and faith organizations may also be able to supply a list of local mental health professionals. People can directly ask their doctors to get a sense of their cultural awareness and highlight that this is important to their identity.
If English is not a person’s preferred language, they can state this and either speak with a mental health professional that can communicate in Spanish or schedule an interpreter.
Additionally, if a person believes language barriers are negatively affecting treatment, they can discuss this and potentially schedule more frequent or longer appointments to allow adequate time and use of the interpreter.
Potential mental health resources for Hispanic people may include:
Depression is a common mental health condition that may be prevalent in Hispanic communities due to the way the culture approaches mental health. Additionally, barriers may exist that may make accessing support difficult.
If a person is experiencing mental health difficulties, it is important they seek and engage in culturally-sensitive mental healthcare to help manage depression. Resources are available that can help a person receive appropriate support.