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The stigma of mental health

By Caroline Clauss-Ehlers

Research indicates that Latinos in general do not use mental health services with the same frequency as other groups. Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, physician, clinical and community psychologist, stated there are five obstacles that get in the way of Latinos receiving mental health services; these include:

1. People often do not know where to go to receive services.

2. Transportation is problematic as many do not have the means to get to the destined location to receive services.

3. Existing services are often located in cities and not in rural areas.

4. Frequently there are no professionals who know the language.

5. Stigma contributes to stereotypes associated with mental illnesses.

What to do

Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola commented: "The perception of who suffers from a mental illness is very much conditioned by what is seen on television or in the movies, what is read in the newspapers, or seen on the streets. A series of myths and misconceptions exist that are perpetuated by the media."

Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola presented several ways to combat stigma and open the doors of mental health services for those in need but afraid to seek them out. One strategy included a public education campaign so that people could understand that mental health problems are real, learn to recognize symptoms, and realize that treatment does work. A second strategy referred to decisions politicians can make about allocating resources to mental health services and in so doing, helping change the stigma associated with mental health problems.

Finally, it is important for people to understand that 5 of the 10 principal causes of incapacity worldwide correspond with mental illnesses.

This column is educational. It does not substitute for formal medical advice. Do not use this information without talking with a qualified professional.

Send your questions to Nueva Edad/Hoy, 330 West 34St., 17th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Or call at (212) 462-9464
Or write to

Copyright 2004, Used with permission from Hoy.

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