Hispanics Lack Understanding of Mental Illness

Stigma and lack of knowledge persist in the Hispanic community.

A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found a significant lack of knowledge and understanding among Hispanics about the warning signs, causes, and effective treatments for mental illnesses, such as depression. Forty-two percent report knowing only a little or almost nothing at all about mental illnesses. But asked whether they would benefit from knowing more about the warning signs of mental illnesses, 84 percent said yes.

“The consequences of this gap in knowledge are quite serious,” says Pedro Ruiz, M.D., president of the APA. “About one in five Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder during any given year. This means few families are untouched by a mental illness. Across all races and cultures, families will benefit from understanding how these disorders can impact their lives.”

The survey also showed that 88 percent of Hispanics say it is important to have a medical degree when it comes to being able to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. “As medical doctors, psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to evaluate your physical and mental state,” says Dr. Ruiz. “Medical doctors are trained to make the right diagnosis and to treat your mind and body. We are committed to assist Hispanic populations in eliminating myths about mental illness.”

“Mental Illnesses are real and treatable. Today we know more than ever about how the brain works and how it affects overall health,” Dr. Ruiz adds.

“We need to make sure Hispanics get the benefit of these discoveries, and that means dispelling myths and providing the facts so that people get the help they need. We really can help Hispanics have healthy minds so they can enjoy healthy lives.”

Treatments for mental illnesses are effective. The National Institute of Mental Health recently found the rate of successful treatment for depression (70-80 percent) compares favorably to the rate for other chronic illnesses, such as heart disease (45-50 percent). The survey showed that many Americans do not understand that common mental illnesses can be successfully treated most of the time.

“Left untreated, mental illnesses can take an enormous toll on family life, the workplace, and society as a whole,” says Dr. Ruiz. Mental disorders comprise 4 of the 10 leading causes of disability in the U.S. and the economic burden of depression alone has been estimated at $83 billion in 2000.

“The most important point is for people to understand that mental illnesses are real and highly treatable,” Dr. Ruiz continues. “Through the APA’s “Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives.” campaign, we are providing the most up-to-date, science-based information on common mental health concerns, warning signs, where to turn for help, and treatment options.” Learn more by visiting www.HealthyMinds.org.

Additional Survey Findings
    • Stigma persists. Thirty-seven percent of Hispanic adults surveyed say that friends may not seek treatment because of a fear of what others may think.
    • Mental health groups and the media can help with positive images. A majority of Hispanic adults surveyed say positive stories in the news media about mental illnesses (60 percent) and positive portrayals of people with mental illnesses in television programs and movies (64 percent) would have “quite a lot” or “some” influence in overcoming the stigma associated with mental illnesses.
    • The causes of mental illnesses are genetic and environmental factors, traumatic events, and other physical illnesses and injuries that have psychiatric side effects. Over one-third of Hispanics mistakenly think that emotional or personal weakness is a major cause of mental illnesses and almost as many think old age is a major cause (27 percent).

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