Rutgers scholar Susan Caplan is available to discuss mental health issues in the Latino community, including cultural barriers to seeking treatment, and her efforts to help health workers in the Dominican Republic and beyond.

Hispanics/Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States, representing nearly 20 percent of the population. Recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show 15 percent of this group have reported some form of mental illness compared to 19 percent of non-Hispanic whites, but Hispanics/Latinos seek treatment at only half the rate of non-Hispanic whites.

Culture influences every aspect of global health, shaping how people perceive wellness, security, sexuality, disease and suffering, and can also affect how entire societies structure their health systems, allocate resources and respond to emergencies. Caplan, an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Nursing and a core faculty member at Rutgers Global Health Institute, is an expert on the assessment and treatment of mental health issues in Latino communities.

According to Caplan, depression and anxiety are rarely treated in the Latino community until a person is severely ill and unable to perform activities of daily living.  Language barriers and lack of insurance and health care providers trained in culturally appropriate treatment contribute to this problem, but another factor is religious values. 

“Religious and cultural values may inhibit people, including doctors and nurses themselves, from coming to terms with their depression and talking openly with their health care providers,” Caplan said. “Many Latinos are devout Christians, which often means they believe in the potential healing power of religious faith, or they may believe that someone has a mental illness because they did not adhere to religious or cultural values to be strong and put up with adversity. This induces stigma about mental health.”

Caplan hopes to help Latino doctors and patients overcome stigma by helping health care providers to develop better communication skills and comfort levels for discussing depression and anxiety. She said many mental health stressors among Latinos may be related to perceived racism, family separation, migration or post-traumatic stress disorder from violence in their country of origin.

Understanding culture broadly to include multiple intersecting identities of race, ethnicity, religion, health literacy and social determinants of health is essential for patient-centered care,” she said.

In the spring, Caplan will host a training workshop for health care providers in the Dominican Republic to improve their communication skills and confidence in discussing depression and anxiety with their patients. She plans to use the workshop as a model in other low- and middle-income Latin American countries and is developing a smartphone app to help teach patients about mental and behavioral health.

View Caplan’s tips for health care providers to incorporate culture into their practices. To speak with Caplan, contact Vanessa Roman at 973-508-7027, [email protected].

At request, Caplan is available to conduct interviews in Spanish.  Dra. Susan Caplan está disponible para dar entrevistas en español o con ayuda de traducción. Para más información o para comunicarse con Caplan, contacte a Vanessa Román, 973-508-7027, [email protected].