Years ago, in a college class, I learned that socioeconomic status was commonly used as a predictor of health outcomes in most countries. I remember this well because my professor chose to exemplify global cases with extreme pictures of poverty and ghastly pathologies. What my sensationalist instructor forgot back then was to address how international migration would affect the locally observed epidemiologic correlation.
Today, with a growing population of Latinos in America, a paradox continues to gain statistical force based on mortality data. Upon arrival, struggling low-income Latino immigrants are generally healthier than most segments of the U.S. population.
The story appears to change within years. Length of residence in the U.S., as research suggests, may be associated with health deterioration.
Even though this phenomenon hasn’t been deciphered completely and the diversity of the Latino community complicates the equation, we are beginning to understand that the prevalence and manifestation of mental illness particularly differ between Latino immigrants and those born in the United States. Recent comparison studies have shown that:
Birthplace and cultural variance have a significant correlation with subsequent risk for many psychiatric disorders. For most Latino immigrants without a history of trauma in their homeland, foreign nativity appears to initially serve a protective role against mental illness, even with the stress and poverty often associated with immigration.
What May Account for the Latino Paradox?
As I dig for possible explanations, more questions emerge:
There is Hope
As previously noted, the reasons behind the Latino health paradox may be tied to an array of different factors. And even though mortality rates support the notion of health advantages, they should not lead to hasty conclusions regarding the state and health outcomes of the subgroups that make up the Latino community.
Latinos, without a doubt, are at risk for psychiatric disorders. We cannot be ignored in mental health research and the development of treatment interventions; services need to be offered that fit our individual needs. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, support and research, and is fully committed to raising mental health awareness and building a community for hope for all those in need.
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