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Study Finds a Decrease in Availability of Spanish Language Mental Health Services

  • May 03, 2022

Washington, D.C., May 3, 2022 — Between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of facilities in the U.S. offering mental health treatment in Spanish declined by 17.8% — a loss of 1,163 Spanish-speaking mental health facilities, according to new research published in Psychiatric Services. Over the same time period, the Hispanic population in the U.S. increased by 4.5% or 5.2 million people. 

The study, led by George Pro, Ph.D., M.P.H., with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, used data from the National Mental Health Services Survey of more than 12,000 facilities conducted in 2014 and 2019. Pro and colleagues looked at changes in the proportions of facilities that offered treatment in Spanish overall and by year, state, and proportion of Hispanic residents.

While the Hispanic population grew across all states, the availability of services in Spanish declined in 44 states. Several states with the fastest Hispanic population growth, including Oklahoma, North Dakota, Ohio, Kentucky, and Maine, simultaneously had large decreases in the proportion of mental health facilities offering Spanish-language services.

With a growing Hispanic population and a growing need for behavioral health care among Hispanic people, the availability of mental health services in Spanish is “critical for reducing barriers to treatment and ensuring health equity across populations,” the authors suggest. “A treatment provider’s competency in the patient’s primary language improves communication and allows for a more nuanced and personal discussion.”

“Somewhat counterintuitively, this study identified a sizable gap between the growing need for mental health services provided in Spanish and a decrease in most states in the capacity of mental health practitioners to provide services in Spanish,” the study concludes. Between 2014 and 2019, the U.S. gained more than 5 million Hispanic residents but lost more than 1,000 mental health facilities with clinical staff providing mental health services in Spanish.

American Psychiatric Association

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