Posted: Sept. 12, 2006
Latinos and mental health needs
By AZARA SANTIAGO-RIVERA
The Journal Sentinel recently reported the remarkable growth of the Latino population in Milwaukee County, now estimated at about 100,000. The growth has surpassed that of other racial and ethnic groups in Wisconsin.
What was once primarily a Mexican and Puerto Rican community is now quite diverse. Latinos from countries such as Argentina, Nicaragua, Colombia and El Salvador have migrated here, seeking opportunities to improve the quality of their lives.
It is clear that Wisconsin is attracting a diverse group of people who want to work, raise children, contribute to society and live productive and healthy lives. However, Latinos also face many challenges.
Research has shown that there may be considerable stress associated with adapting to a new environment, especially for recent immigrants.
It is often compounded by inadequate housing, financial burden, discrimination, language barriers and difficulty obtaining social services. All are reported to be major sources of psychological distress, and these
stressful experiences contribute to depression.
This is particularly troublesome because depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychological disorders in the United States.
The costs of depression are significant, not only to those who are suffering and their
families but also because of the high economic burden of depression, much of which is attributed to work-related absenteeism and lost productivity. Suicide, of course, is the ultimate cost.
Experts in the study of ethnic minority mental health report that Latinos not only underutilize mental health services, but when they do seek treatment they drop out after two to three sessions. A primary reason is that traditional forms of treatment have failed to consider cultural and linguistic differences unique to this group.
In fact, a driving force for developing culturally and linguistically appropriate treatment approaches is to decrease the high dropout rate. Thus, longevity in treatment increases the likelihood of a successful therapeutic experience.
New psychosocial treatment interventions are needed so that Latinos will not only seek help but also stay in treatment longer.
Recent trends in the counseling and clinical psychology research literature indicate that one such possibility is an intervention called behavioral activation.
This treatment motivates clients with depression to solve problems in their lives by engaging in meaningful and rewarding activities.
Results of a recent study, conducted largely with Caucasian clients, suggest that behavioral activation may be as effective as or more effective than cognitive-behavior therapy for depression and possibly as effective as anti-depressant medication for severe depression.
The good news is that Wisconsin, specifically the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is responding.
A research study, funded by a UWM Research Growth Initiative award, is under way at Milwaukee's 16th Street Community Health Center to adapt and evaluate behavioral activation for depressed Latinos.
The study is part of an effort to address health disparities by giving more attention to mental disorders like depression, which may be disproportionately represented among the underserved populations in the city and Milwaukee County.
Ultimately, the health and well-being of our communities must be tackled in ways that are sensitive to cultural differences.
With this in mind, the National Latina/o Psychological Association, a leading organization in generating and advancing psychological knowledge, as well as promoting its application for the benefit of
Hispanic/Latino populations, will have its biannual conference in Milwaukee Oct. 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency.
Nationally and internationally renowned scholars and practitioners will be offering workshops and content sessions on a variety of topics such as innovative interventions for Latino men, women and youth, health risk reduction, counseling Latino gays and lesbians and academic achievement issues.
The keynote speaker will be Yasmin Davidds, an international best-selling author and empowerment specialist, who is recognized as one of the leading Latinas by Hispanic Magazine.
Azara Santiago-Rivera is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is president of the National Latina/o Psychological Association.
Peter S. Lopez ~aka Peta
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