Minority Mental Health Awareness Hispanic Females

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), despite depression being a common and treatable mental health illness, it is the number one cause of disability in the world, affecting more than 350 million people.

The illness is characterized by mood changes and alteration in self-attitude, cognitive functioning, sleep, appetite, and energy level, causing impairment in social and occupational functioning and a decrease in the quality of life of the depressed person, family, and friends. Mistreated and untreated depression can lead to suicidal and homicidal ideations, which in many cases turn into actual deaths. And in fact, up to 13.5% of all people suffering from clinical depression end up committing suicide.

However, Hispanic women in the United States experience depression at about twice the rate of Hispanic males and are at a higher risk for depression than Caucasian and African American women. This is, in part, due to multiple social determinants of health that affect Hispanic women and their families. Social determinants of health (i.e., income, education, health status, and acculturation) among Hispanic women may play a crucial role in the development or exacerbation of depression.

Research findings suggest that the longer a Hispanic woman lives in the United States, the higher the risk for depressive symptoms, as there is an increased sense of loss in cultural values, norms, and family cohesion.  A major study into the social determinants of depression among Hispanic women suggest that when a Hispanic woman does not live with her partner, has an educational level of below high school, and has a fair or poor health, she has a significantly higher risk of developing depression.


According to SAMHSA:

  • The rate of illicit drug use in the past month among Hispanic individuals ages 12 and up was 8.9%, while the national average was 10.2%.
  • The rate of binge alcohol use among Hispanics or Latinos within this age group was 24.7%. Alcohol use in the last year among people ages 12 to 17 was 23.9% for Hispanic youth.

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration says 50% of Hispanic teens reported using marijuana compared to 35% of whites and 40% of African Americans. They also report:

Even though many Hispanic Americans choose to abstain from alcohol, statistics show that those who do drink often do so to a much greater degree than non-Hispanic Americans.

Rates of use may differ by ethnic group. For example, the Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports that Puerto Rican men and women had higher rates of cocaine use than Mexican and Cuban American men and women.

Data shows that Latinos were more likely to be admitted to substance abuse treatment due to opioid abuse than non-Hispanic Americans.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that roughly 9.5% of Hispanics experience alcohol dependence at some point in their lives, and about 13.8% of non-Hispanic whites do. But 33% of Hispanics who develop alcohol dependence have persistent problems as opposed to 22.8% of non-Hispanic whites.

Statistics from 1992 to 2002 show that the number of Hispanic women receiving a citation for DUI increased. Also, among Hispanics who drink, Mexican American men and women and South/Central American men are most likely to receive a DUI.

Another study reported at the US National Library of Medicine suggests that lifetime psychiatric disorder prevalence estimates were 28.1% for men and 30.2% for women. Puerto Ricans had the highest overall prevalence rate among the Latino ethnic groups assessed. Increased rates of psychiatric disorders were observed among US-born, English-language-proficient, and third-generation Latinos.

In general, Latinos aren’t as likely to report mental illness. In 2011, the percentage of persons 18 or older with any mental illness was 15.9 percent among Latinos. In fact, the amount of depression in Latino women compared to Latin men is much higher – 46% compared to 19.6%. However, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs suggests that among Hispanics with a mental disorder, less than one in 11 contacts a mental health specialist, and less than one in five contacts a general health care provider. Additionally, less than 55 percent of Hispanic adults — and only 30 percent of adolescents — with a major depressive episode received treatment for depression.  And just five percent of Hispanics surveyed reported using antidepressants, despite the fact that 27 percent suffered from depression. 

Further, both first and second generation Hispanics are far more likely to show symptoms of depression than immigrants. Latino adolescents who encounter discrimination-related stress are more likely to be targets of anxiety, depression, and sleep issues. But one can’t simply blanket all Hispanics with one brush as rates of depression vary by country of origin. 27 percent of Latinos express high levels of depressive symptoms, with a low of 22.3 percent among those of Mexican background and a high of 38 percent among those of Puerto Rican background. 

One study of note found in the US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health suggests that depression is the number one cause of disability in the world. Hispanic women are at a higher risk for depression than Caucasian and African American women. This is in part due to multiple social determinants of health that affect the individual, family, aggregates, and community.

Latin American culture is, traditionally, very family oriented but it retains firm gender divisions that celebrate achievements made by males while at the same time relegating women to roles of homemaking. Because these divisions run deep while at the same time families play such a strong part in the lives of Hispanics, young Latina girls feel guilt by not following their patriarchal demands. Or, if they decide to pursue their own ambitions regardless, they will create inner turmoil by following their dreams and going against family wishes.

Other reasons for a higher rate of substance abuse in Hispanic females include:

  • A family history of substance abuse problems. 
  • Increased likelihood of mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Acculturation issues.
  • Hispanic youth display an increased likelihood to engage in illicit drug abuse compared to non-Hispanic youth.
  • Unmarried Hispanic Americans may be more likely to report substance abuse.
  • Unemployment and poverty.
  • Exposure to traumatic events. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. only 20 percent of Latinos who have symptoms of a psychological disorder discuss them with a doctor and only 10 percent contact a mental health specialist.

Latinos are already the biggest racial and ethnic minority group in the country today and their numbers increase annually. Today, one in every six people is Latino; by 2035, that number could climb to one in four. By 2060, it may be one in three – which makes it so important that everyone gets the help and healthcare they deserve.

If you or a loved one is suffering from any form of mental illness, especially those that lead to addiction issues, we urge you to seek out help before the situation worsens. There should be no stigmas attached to getting better, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, and once again becoming a contributing member of the family.