Thousands of visitors flocked to Yanaguana Garden for the day-long celebration of Texas culture. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
A child is spun at Yanaguana Park at Hemisfair. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Did you know that Latino children are far more likely than their peers to suffer from depression and other mental health issues that often go untreated?

This has big implications for San Antonio, which has a majority Latino population.

Our new research review, Salud America! Mental Health & Latino Kids by our Salud America! national network for healthy change at UT Health San Antonio, examines the latest science on the state of mental health among Latino children and shares policy recommendations.

What does the research say?

The review shows that violence, discrimination, migration, poverty, bullying, and family issues impact Latino children’s mental health and access to mental health care in different ways.

Here are just a few startling facts:

  • 22% of Latino youth have depressive symptoms, a rate higher than any minority group besides Native American youth.
  • Latina high schoolers are more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers (15.1% to 9.8%).
  • Thoughts of suicide were between 2.3 and 8 times higher for Latino students who felt low levels of connectedness and communication within their families.
  • The migration experience causes stress, anxiety, and depression in Latino children.
  • 2% of Latino students report being bullied at school. Race-related bullying has negative emotional and physical health effects.
  • Depression among U.S.-born Latino high schoolers is significantly associated with discrimination from teachers/students.

What makes these statistics even more alarming?

Fewer Latino children (8%) than white children (14%) have received mental health care. Latino children also had about half of the outpatient mental health visits compared to their white peers.

“Latino children had lower hospitalization rates for mental illness compared to white children, and they had lower rates of substance abuse counseling,” one study found.

What effectively promotes healthy minds?

Our Salud America! Mental Health & Latino Kids research review showcases innovative programs and policies to boost healthy minds in schools and communities:

  • School-based bullying prevention programs can decrease bullying by up to 25%.
  • Latino children who participated in physical education classes three times or more a week reported less sadness than those who took attended two classes or less a week, one study found.
  • A program with bilingual school social workers reduced depressive symptoms in Latino third- to ninth-graders who had PTSD.
  • A program with home visits and educational sessions led to higher levels of school engagement among Latino seventh-graders and reduced stress, another study found.

The research also spotlights promising but unevaluated programs:

  • The Chalk Talk program in Boston mixes group therapy and sports participation.
  • A home visit program helps identify behavioral/developmental issues in kids and boost treatment and support for families in low-income areas of Omaha, Neb.
  • The Baby’s Space curriculum helps kids build social, physical, cognitive, and emotional skills through play, discovery, and formation of warm relationships.

San Antonio is home to another promising program.

The Early Childhood Well-Being project in San Antonio is a mental health referral program for children ages 0-6.

Children are most often referred by teachers based on behaviors exhibited in the classroom. The program includes parent-child and teacher-child interaction strategies and social skills training.

“A partnership has also been created between the Early Childhood Well-Being project and a local federally qualified health center, where children who require additional psychosocial interventions may be referred,” according to the research.

Both San Antonio healthcare providers and Latino children stand to benefit from emulating successful healthcare models across the country.

Arizona clinic expands mental health care for Latinos

The Adelante Healthcare System is a clinic group in Maricopa County, Ariz., which is 30% Latino.

Dr. Avein Saaty Tafoya and Lisa Blue of Adelante recognized healthcare barriers facing Arizona Latinos, so they began seeking grants and partnerships to add personnel and expand beyond their historical focus on primary care.

Today the Adelante team has primary care physicians, specialists, health coaches, mental and behavioral health social workers, and others who connect families to insurance.

“The way we do things now, with this model, it allows each of us to have the type of care that our patients truly need,” Blue said. “This helps us prevent chronic disease whenever possible and help those that have chronic disease to manage them better.”

Florida nonprofit relieves stress for Latinos 

Broward County, Fla. is 27% Latino and a popular U.S. entry point for many from Latin American countries and the Caribbean. 

Many immigrants arrive with no healthcare coverage, no money, and a lot of stress. 

Hispanic Unity of Florida is an immigrant advocacy group that works to reverse problematic social and health issues. Its team works to empower immigrants to become self-sufficient, productive, and civically engaged. It also connects them with healthcare resources offered through the Affordable Care Act.

During each open enrollment cycle, Hispanic Unity of Florida holds registration events and offers appointments with trained, bilingual application counselors at its headquarters.

“We really take the time to discover what our clients’ needs are in order to help them,” said Josie Bacallao, president and CEO of Hispanic Unity of Florida. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Many leave taking advantage of our many services and transform their lives in the process.”

Bishop Jose Torres pushes health via church

Bishop Jose Torres, a father of three girls who plays volleyball in his spare time, was concerned about the lack of health awareness among members of his congregation in Severn, a suburb of Annapolis, Md.

Torres wanted to do something about it, so with a few dedicated partners, he created a Hispanic Health Festival for his community.

For more than five years, the Hispanic Health Festival has provided much needed health information and healthcare services to hundreds of Latinos in the community.

“Since we have been doing the festivals, it’s been remarkable to see how we have actually changed people’s lives,” Torres said.

What else can schools and communities do?

Campers peel oranges slowly during a nutrition education mindful eating class at American Diabetes Association camp.
Campers peel mandarins slowly, part of a lesson on mindful eating at Camp PowerUp. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Our Salud America! research makes these top recommendations:

  • Program leaders, school leaders, and healthcare providers should ensure that mental health care for Latino children is sensitive to issues among this group. These issues include bullying, discrimination, and other immigration-related factors.
  • Providers should diversify the mental health workforce, expand culturally oriented training, and increase access to mental health care interpreters and promoters.
  • Schools and nonprofits should incorporate culturally relevant mental health programs.

You can find more stories and tools for change at our new Healthy Minds webpage or use the Salud America! Salud Report Card to learn health issues impacting San Antonio.

The bottom line is we must take action to create a culture of health where Latino and all families can live, learn, work, and play better.

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Amelie G. Ramirez

Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., an internationally renowned health disparities researcher, is chair ad interim of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and director of the Institute for Health Promotion...