New Research on Latinx Young Adult Mental HealthReading Time: 8 minutes
Research on the mental health of Latinx young adults in the United States reveals that this group has been experiencing increased rates of mental health conditions in recent years. One survey found that just over half of Latinx/Hispanic young adults report symptoms of depression and anxiety. Moreover, a new study shows that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on US-born young adults of Latinx heritage.
BIPOC Mental Health Month is an opportunity to increase awareness individually and societally around the challenges that people of color face in the United States. (BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.) This includes the traumatic stress of ongoing racial discrimination, bias, microaggressions, and outright violence. Moreover, people of color encounter a variety of obstacles that can prevent them from accessing mental healthcare when they need it. In this article, we’ll look specifically at the experience of Latinx/Hispanic young adults.
- The pandemic era had disproportionate negative effects on the metal health of Latinx teens and young adults.
- However, rates of Latinx/Hispanic mental health conditions in young adults have been increasing over the past decade.
- About half of Latinx/Hispanic young adults report anxiety and/or depressive symptoms, but only about half of those receive mental healthcare.
- A variety of cultural, societal, and age-related factors impact this group’s mental health and their ability to access care.
What Does Latinx Mean?
Latinx is a gender-neutral version of Latino (male) or Latina (female). All three terms are used to describe a diverse group of people who have roots in Latin America. Latin America encompasses South America, Central America, and some Caribbean islands.
“Hispanic” is often used interchangeably with Latino/Latina/Latinx. But the term Hispanic is typically used for people who come from Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain). Hence, a Brazilian-American would be considered Latinx because Brazil is in Latin America. However, because Brazilians speak Portuguese, they would not be referred to as Hispanic. People with origins in Latin American countries where Spanish is spoken are both Hispanic and Latinx.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), Latinx/Hispanic people in the United States come primarily from the following backgrounds:
- Mexican (62 percent)
- Puerto Rican (9.5 percent)
- Salvadorean (3.9 percent)
- Cuban (3.9 percent)
- Dominican (3.5 percent)
- Guatemalan (2.5 percent)
The Impact of the Pandemic on Latinx Mental Health
New research looks at the effect of the pandemic on 300 Latinx young adults living in the Salinas Valley in California. Published in July 2023 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the study compared participants’ depressive systems before and after 2020. The researchers found that the young adults’ depression significantly increased during the years following the start of the pandemic. This was particularly true for young women.
Caring for younger siblings, lack of self-care, economic strain, less physical activity, and household crowding all negatively impacted young Latinx women’s mental health during this time. Notably, however strong social relationships helped keep depression at bay for young women, and strong family relationships helped prevent an increase in anxiety.
Another new study analyzed four years of mental health data (two pre-COVID and two after COVID) in 1,200 Latinx elementary and middle school students. The researchers found that Latino students are up to twice as likely to be at risk for depression and anxiety. Teen girls and nonbinary Latinx students had particularly high levels of mental health risk.
Consequently, if Latinx teens don’t get the support they need, they may enter young adulthood with untreated mental health conditions. In addition to depression, these challenges can range from high-functioning anxiety to what’s known as “failure to launch.”
There are multiple stressors that Latinx children and families have endured historically and in the past few years, in addition to the pandemic. These include hostile and discriminatory immigration policies and other forms of ethno-racial trauma. Measuring the direct and indirect impact of these events is challenging, and efforts are needed to isolate the combined effects of these stressors from those of the pandemic.
Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
Why Are Latinx Young Adults Experiencing High Rates of Mental Health Issues?
It’s clear that the pandemic era disproportionately impacted Latinx youth. However, as with their peers of other races and ethnicities, mental health issues have been increasing among Latinx young adults in the United States since before the pandemic. In general, the young adult years are difficult to navigate. This is the stage when young people are attempting to forge their own independence and identity, find meaning and purpose in life, and create positive connections outside the family.
Why are Latinx young adults struggling in particular? One reason is traumatic stress. Traumatic stress, particularly when experienced at an early age, leaves young people vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. And data shows that 78 percent of Latinx youth suffer at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE), with 28 percent experiencing four or more ACEs. These traumatic stressors may be related to family circumstances (e.g., neglect, abuse, loss of a parent or guardian, poverty, or the stress related to immigration). Or they may be related to the systemic racism that people of color experience in the United States.
Moreover, young adults in general, of all races and ethnicities, have been experiencing higher rates of mental health conditions over the last decade. Experts attribute this to a variety of factors, including the negative effects of social media, increased loneliness among young adults, and anxiety about the environment and political issues.
Know the Facts
Major depressive episodes among Latinx/Hispanic young adults increased from 8% to 12% between 2008 and 2018, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Mental Health in Latinx/Hispanic LGBTQ Youth
Latinx/Hispanic teens and young adults who identify as LGBTQ experience additional stress and discrimination, leading to increased mental health challenges. The Trevor Project 2023 survey tracked data on this group. Here are some of the findings for the past year:
- 42 percent of Latinx/Hispanic LGBTQ young adults considered suicide and 15 percent attempted suicide
- 68 percent of this group report anxiety and 58 percent report depression
- 60 percent feel discriminated against due to their gender identity
- 49 percent feel discriminated against due to their sexual orientation
- 15 percent of Hispanic/Latinx teens and young adults have been physically threatened or harmed in the past year due to their sexual orientation.
- 24 percent have experienced physical threat or harm due to their gender identity.
What Prevents Hispanic/Latinx Young Adults from Accessing Care?
US young adults have the highest rates of mental health conditions of any age demographic. However, many are unable to access mental health services or don’t seek care. This is true of Latinx/Hispanic young adults as well.
Research using data from the national Household Pulse Survey found that Hispanic and Black young adults were the most likely to report mental health symptoms. About half of Hispanic/Latinx young adults (51 percent) reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. And about half of those reported that they needed mental health services but did not receive any. By contrast, among white young adults, about a third needed mental healthcare but did not receive it.
In addition, SAMHSA data shows that about 90 percent of Latinx/Hispanic people over the age of 12 with a substance use disorder did not receive treatment.
Know the Facts
44% of Latinx/Hispanic young adults with mental health symptoms do not receive any counseling, according to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. .
Obstacles to Mental Healthcare for Latinx Young Adults
One of the biggest obstacles that prevents Latinx/Hispanic young aduls from accessing care is the lack of culturally competent mental health professionals. Culturally competent care refers to being mindful and aware of a client’s cultural values, beliefs, and differences when providing mental health treatment. Many people of color would prefer to work with a mental health professional who personally understands their specific cultural experience.
However, only 8 percent of US psychologists are Hispanic, according to American Psychological Association data. This can lead not only to a lack of understanding, but also to misinterpretation or misdiagnosis. For example, depression in Latinx/Hispanic young adults tends to show up as physical symptoms, such as fatigue or headaches. But not all mental health professionals would be able to recognize these physical issues as mental health indicators.
There’s a reason why mental health issues in this group often manifest in physical rather than emotional symptoms. Latinx/Hispanic young adults may unconsciously suppress feelings of sadness, anxiety, grief, or fear due to cultural values in their family or community. Some Hispanic/Latinx families and communities see mental health problems as inappropriate or shameful to talk about publicly. This stigma can prevent young adults from acknowledging and talking about what they’re feeling. They may not even admit to themselves what they’re going through.
Moreover, many Latinx/Hispanic young adults are raised with an expectation of self-reliance—that they should be able to take care of themselves without additional support. In analyzing mental health screenings taken on their website, Mental Health America found that significant percentages of Latinx/Hispanic respondents said they would self-monitor their mental health or ask for guidance from a peer rather than seeking mental health services.
The “model minority” syndrome contributes to this outlook. This is the idea that people from a particular ethnic background need to be extra hardworking and successful in order to disprove racist stereotypes. This myth puts pressure on younger generations to hide their emotional struggles as they attempt to live up to an imagined ideal.
The cost of mental healthcare is also a factor for Latinx young adults and families. According to the US Census Bureau, 18 percent of Hispanic/Latino people do not have insurance. And fewer than half of Hispanic children living with their parents are covered by private health insurance.
5 Ways Latinx Young Adults Can Access Mental Health Support
Here are some ways Latinx/Hispanic young adults can get help and support for mental health issues as quickly as possible.
Take Mental Health America’s free online screening
After taking the screening here, you will receive information, resources and tools to help you understand and improve your mental health. Self-care can be a powerful tool for increasing well-being. However, most mental health conditions don’t get better without treatment. Hence, lifestyle changes are important, but accessing professional care is essential.
Contact your insurance company
If you have private insurance, an agent can tell you what coverage you have for mental healthcare and what treatment facilities the company works with. Medicaid and other public insurance plans will also give you information about mental healthcare coverage and providers in the plan. Find out more about how insurance can cover mental health services.
Talk to your primary care provider
A doctor or physician’s assistant can provide a referral and a list of mental health providers in your area. Keep going down the list until you find a program or therapist who will take new clients and preferably accepts your insurance. If they’re not taking new clients, ask them if they’ll help you find someone who does, or if they are willing to do an assessment to help you determine the right level of care.
Call a hotline
If you need immediate help, you can reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or using the chat box at 988lifeline.org/chat. You can also call 911 or go to the emergency room of your local hospital. For LGBTQ young people, The Trevor Project offers free and confidential phone and text hotlines.
Contact Newport Institute
Our Admissions experts are available 24/7 at 855-895-4468 to help you determine what level of care may be appropriate for you or a loved one. We will also support you with the insurance verification process. Newport Institute is dedicated to helping young adults access the treatment that can help them move forward into a thriving life. If our programs are not a good fit, we’ll help you find another option that’s right for you.
Specialized Young Adult Treatment at Newport Institute
If you need support with your mental health or you have friends that do, Newport Institute can help. Our residential treatment and outpatient programs provide safe and supportive environments with specialized treatment plans for young people ages 18–35. Our approach is proven to succeed: Research on our outcomes shows that treatment at Newport increases young adult well-being by five times.
Our culturally competent and evidence-based care guides young adults to build self-worth, form authentic connections with others, develop a sense of purpose, practice self-care, and cultivate hope. Our team of clinicians, medical experts, and experiential therapists are trained to guide young adults to navigate the internal and external challenges they face during this transitional time in their lives.
Contact us today to find out more and get started on the path to healing.