“Mental health involves more than the brain,” said the program’s guest speaker, Jane Delgado, Ph.D., M.S., a clinical psychologist and president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. “We really need to understand the people who we serve … and listen to them.” During an interview with Psychiatric News, Delgado, a Cuban American, said that one of the main factors that keep Hispanic Americans from accessing mental health care, as well as other health care services, is the fear of not being understood due to language barriers and the lack of cultural competence by clinicians, particularly when patients are describing their symptoms.
Delgado described one situation in which a person of Hispanic descent visited the emergency department and repeatedly said “débil” when asked to describe their symptoms. Under the assumption that the patient was trying to convey that he was seeing the devil, the health care professionals concluded that the patient's illness was related to mental illness. “ 'Débil' means ‘weak’ in Spanish,” Delgado explained to Psychiatric News. "This is one of many examples of how misunderstandings" of a patient’s ethnic background and language can affect the health care they receive.
Delgado, who advocates for minority health on Capitol Hill, also stressed the importance of increasing the number of diverse clinical trials, particularly involving mental health care. “Hispanics metabolize fat differently from the general population—making certain medications intended for diabetes more effective in this population. Certain heart medications are more effective in African Americans. … Does this [concept] hold true for psychiatric medication that we give patients? We need to know." She added that "mental health professionals must push for better and more diverse data to make the best decision for our patients."
To read more about mental health issues in Hispanic Americans, see the Psychiatric News article "For Better Mental Health Care for Latinos, Look at Neighborhoods."
(Image: Vabren Watts/Psychiatric News)