Researchers Identify Screening Tools & Barriers to Mental Health for Latino Kids

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Mental health is becoming an ever-growing concern for everyone as it is now understood that it plays a large part in overall health and well-being. Latinos are already the country’s largest minority group and there numbers are continually growing. As they become an even larger part of the population (they are also the youngest minority group), their health concerns become an even larger part of the overall picture of the health of the country.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University recently identified a “culturally sensitive” set of tools that can be applied by pediatricians to help them screen Latino patients for mental health symptoms. Anxiety, depression, and aggression are some of the mental health issues that plague many Latinos and often go undiagnosed and untreated.

The tools, which are freely available, and take less than 10 minutes to use are in Spanish and can help assess a wide range of emotional and behavioral problems among Latino kids. The investigators from Johns Hopkins encourage primary care pediatricians to consider utilizing four mental health screening tools: he Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC)-17-question version, the PSC-35-question version, the pictorial PSC-35, and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, which consists of 25 questions.

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“The Latino population in this nation will only keep growing, and with that reality, physicians need to be aware of the population-specific barriers to health care. Latinos statistically have a poorer health status compared to whites due to lack of access to health care, fear of going to the doctor if they’re undocumented and an inability to communicate health needs due to language barriers,” said Dr. Tania Caballero, a pediatrics research and clinical fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the paper’s first author.

According to the study, which was published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics, more than 90% of U.S. Latino children are born in the U.S. and half that number have immigrant parents. Caballero and her team examined what culturally sensitive and efficient tools for mental health screenings currently exist for Spanish-speaking parents with children age 5-18.

“The goals were to increase primary care pediatricians’ capacity to conduct effective mental health screening in Latino families, understand culture-specific barriers to screening and create opportunities to address mental health in the pediatric medical home,” she said.

Barriers, such as reading that was difficult in both English and Spanish, have often prevented Latinos and their primary care physicians from frequently diagnosing mental health issues. In addition to language barriers, cultural ones exist as well. Researchers determined that first-generation children and their assimilation into American culture is often at odds with the traditional aspects at home. Stress from that and from immigration status can cause mental health problems.

“It’s important to remember that in younger children, the screener is completed by the parent, not the child,” Caballero said. “Parents answer these questions about their children, which adds an extra layer of complexity because parents have different definitions of what counts as regular behavior and what constitutes a mental health problem.”

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