Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Study Reveals Drop in Spanish-Language Services at U.S. Mental Health Treatment Facilities

Even as the number of people who identify as Hispanic in the United States grew by an estimated 5.2 million people (or about 4.5%) between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of U.S. mental health treatment facilities offering services in Spanish fell by nearly 18%, a report published today in Psychiatric Services has found. The study also revealed that among states with the fastest Hispanic population growth, several also experienced the greatest reduction in Spanish-language services.

“A treatment provider’s competency in the patient’s primary language improves communication and allows for a more nuanced and personal discussion,” wrote George Pro, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and colleagues. “With the growing Hispanic population in the United States, a lack of providers who speak Spanish is a major barrier to health-seeking behavior.”

Pro and colleagues analyzed data from the National Mental Health Services Survey (N-MHSS), a survey completed annually by administrators from public and private mental health treatment facilities in the United States. Specifically, they focused on data collected from 13,015 facilities in 2014 and 12,345 facilities in 2019. Administrators of the facilities were asked to reply yes or no to the following question: “Do staff provide mental health treatment services in Spanish at this facility?” The authors also used data collected as part of the American Community Survey to estimate the proportion of states’ Hispanic residents in 2014 and 2019.

Between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of facilities that offered treatment in Spanish declined from 40.5% to 33.3%—a total loss of 1,163 Spanish-speaking facilities in the United States, Pro and colleagues reported. During the same period, Hispanics’ share of state populations increased from 17.6% to 18.4%—an increase of 5.2 million individuals, they wrote. Six states reported an increase in the percentage of facilities offering Spanish-language services during the study period: Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, and New Mexico; all other states experienced a decline in the availability of these services.

“[T]he ratio of the number of facilities providing Spanish-speaking services (per 100,000 Hispanic state residents) varied more than 22-fold across the country, from 2.1 facilities in Texas to 47.2 facilities in Vermont,” Pro and colleagues wrote.

They concluded, “To promote equity in mental health outcomes across populations, efforts should be made to strengthen access to services, improve the quality of care, and promote culturally responsive services for large and growing Hispanic populations in the United States.”

For related information, see the American Journal of Psychotherapy article “Psychotherapy, Spanish, and Hispanic Patients With Limited English Proficiency.”

(Image: iStock/Pornpak Khunatorn)

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