Supporting the Mental Health Needs of Hispanic and Latino Youth
Posted July 10, 2023
By Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, National Institute of Mental Health
At the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), we have made it a priority to advance science focused on decreasing youth mental health disparities by 2031. In this message, I’d like to focus specifically on one group: Hispanic and Latino youth. When it comes to mental health research, Hispanic and Latino youth have been woefully understudied, but the research we do have suggests a real cause for concern. Evidence indicates that Hispanic and Latino youth have pressing mental health needs and are not receiving adequate mental health care. The dramatic, and dramatically unequal, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have further disproportionately affected youth from minority communities and exacerbated these disparities.
It’s important to understand the specific factors Hispanic and Latino youth may experience—including discrimination, exposure to traumatic events, and migration experiences—that are contributing to these mental health concerns. It’s also important to understand the barriers—including stigma, racism, and lack of cultural understanding, as well as cost and insurance coverage—that may make it difficult for Hispanic and Latino youth to access mental health care.
NIMH is committed to advancing research that seeks to understand the varied experiences of Hispanic and Latino youth and identify the most effective ways to meet their mental health needs.
What Is NIMH Doing?
To ensure that research will have direct, real-world relevance, NIMH is supporting research that engages Hispanic and Latino youth and families in community-based settings.
For example, in one NIMH-supported project out of the University of California, San Francisco, researchers are taking a participatory approach to involve youth, caregivers, health care providers, and community members in the design and implementation of a digital mental health tool called 4Youth. The researchers plan to test the digital intervention at school-based wellness centers and primary care practices that primarily serve Latino, Black, and Asian youth and young adults. The hope is that 4Youth will offer a scalable, culturally responsive digital tool that can help connect youth in these communities with mental health care when they need it.
In another NIMH-funded project, researchers at the University of Miami Coral Gables are adapting an existing, evidence-based parenting intervention so that it can be delivered to Hispanic youth in primary care settings. The researchers will test whether the enhanced intervention—called eHealth Familias Unidas—is effective in preventing or reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety and suicide-related behavior among youth receiving care at one of 18 primary care clinics.
In addition, NIMH supports research aimed at addressing mental health disparities by improving the quality of mental health care received by Hispanic, Latino, and other racial and ethnic minority youth. For example, researchers at the University of Washington are rolling out a training program for school mental health clinicians that aims to support equitable and sustainable implementation of measurement-based care. The researchers will examine whether this approach effectively improves clinicians’ practices and, if so, whether those improvements lead to better mental health outcomes among Latino and Black youth.
Barriers to access, including a lack of culturally informed approaches to care delivery, contribute to lower engagement in care by Hispanic and Latino youth, who are less likely to continue treatment for serious mental illness. To help engage youth in the treatment process, NIMH is funding a study to adapt and test an intervention focused on increasing the engagement of racial and ethnic minority young adults in treatment as a way of decreasing mental health disparities.
NIMH is also focused on efforts to improve research practices so that interventions reflect and respond to the needs of Hispanic and Latino communities. For example, the NIMH Office for Disparities and Workforce Diversity is hosting a webinar during National Hispanic Heritage Month this September titled, “Engaging Community Stakeholders to Reduce Mental Health Inequities in the Hispanic Community.” The webinar will explore the impact and significance of engaging community stakeholders in developing culturally responsive interventions and the need for implementation science to improve mental health care uptake in the Hispanic community. The webinar will also explore ways to bridge the gap between implementation science and health disparities research to address health inequities experienced by racial and ethnic communities that have been historically marginalized in health care.
Envisioning the Future
These projects reflect a small sample of NIMH activities focused on Hispanic and Latino youth. We know that Hispanic and Latino communities are diverse, with unique cultural identities and sources of resilience. Identifying effective evidence-based interventions requires a community-focused approach—what works for people in one neighborhood or city won’t necessarily work elsewhere. By supporting culturally responsive research that engages families and communities, we hope to push the field forward to address the pressing mental health needs of Hispanic and Latino youth.