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Addressing Mental Health, Cancer Disparities in Hispanic and Latinx Populations

Posted: October 30, 2018

Hispanics/Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States with over 59 million people comprising 18% of the population. However, this growing population’s access to health care is limited by disproportionate rates of underinsurance and underutilization of care, as well as lack of access to providers who speak Spanish and culturally appropriate health services. Even with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Hispanics remain the group most likely to be uninsured. In 2016, the uninsured rate for Hispanics was 16% compared with 6.3% among non-Hispanic whites, 10.5% among non-Hispanic blacks, and 7.6% among Asians. Hispanics are also more likely to struggle with overall economic adversity and have a lower socioeconomic status than non-Hispanic whites which impacts healthcare coverage even further. Compounded economic and health-related stressors can severely increase daily stress. As a result, research has shown that Hispanics are more vulnerable to the adverse mental health impacts of a cancer diagnosis when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Cancer in Hispanic populations

Cancer is the leading cause of mortality among Hispanics, accounting for 22% of all deaths. Compared to non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced stages of disease and experience poor quality of life following a cancer diagnosis.

Mental Health Effects of a Cancer Diagnosis

There can be significant psychosocial effects of a cancer diagnosis, especially amongst patients with a pre-existing mental health condition. According to The National Cancer Institute:

  • 1 in 3 people with cancer experience mental or emotional distress.
  • Hispanics are more vulnerable to adverse mental health impacts due to cancer, when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

For more research articles on the mental health impacts of a cancer diagnosis in Hispanic populations, see this study from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center or this study from the Rutgers Cancer Institute.

Managing the psychosocial effects of cancer can be key to ensuring longer survivorship. Evidence-based psychosocial interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapies that focus on stress management, relaxation skills, coping skills, communication skills and social support have been associated with improved emotional well-being, reduced depressive symptoms, and reduced symptom burden among Hispanic patients diagnosed with breast or prostate cancer. These studies have demonstrated consistent areas of improvement in emotional well-being.

Helping Hispanic Patients Cope with the Psychosocial Effects of a Cancer Diagnosis

When seeking to help patients cope with the psychosocial effects of a cancer diagnosis, it is important that providers consider several important factors. First, faith, spirituality, and family involvement are a large part of the Hispanic community’s cultural beliefs. It is important to recognize that these cultural priorities can provide support to patients and play an integral role when interacting with the Hispanic community. Additionally, mental health providers must be aware of and respect that many Hispanics define family differently than other groups. 


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