Experts Concerned Over Rise in Depression Rates Among US Hispanic Women

by VR Sreeraman on  May 8, 2008 at 1:38 PM Mental Health News
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Depression and other mental troubles are on the rise among Latin American women immigrants to the United States, as they battle economic woes and try to bridge the cultural gap, experts say.
Experts Concerned Over Rise in Depression Rates Among US Hispanic Women
Experts Concerned Over Rise in Depression Rates Among US Hispanic Women

"If you control for socio-economic factors, Latinos have the same rate of depression as other population groups, but since Latinos are usually poorer, they have higher rates of depression," Sarah Huertas-Goldman of the University of Puerto Rico told AFP at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting.

"It's because they are poor, with all the stresses that brings," she said.

Hispanic female teens in the United States were the group most likely to seriously contemplate suicide, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control.

Nearly a quarter of Latina teens had considered suicide, compared with around 17 percent of teens overall, the report showed.

According to Natalie Weder of Yale University's psychiatry department, 53 percent of Mexican-American women suffer post-partum depression -- five times more than the average rate among women in the United States for major depression after birth.

"In Latin America, you don't have a baby alone. You have grandmothers, aunts, godmothers to help you.

"You have longer maternity leave than here, and less financial pressure for the mother to return to work to help the father, who is probably working countless hours to keep his family alive," Weder told AFP.

"It's all a huge stress and it increases depression," she said.

The stress of adapting to US society -- acculturation -- was also fueling depression and behavioral disorders, said Andres Pumariega, chair of the department of psychiatry at Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania.

Immigrants from Latin America try to maintain traditional family ties that dominate their culture while developing the self-focused drive for success so prized in US society, he said.

"It's a balancing act and it adds stress: if you don't acculturate enough, you won't be as successful; acculturate too much and you might be cut off from your family," he said.

Meanwhile, young Hispanic women who successfully navigate the cultural straits separating Latinos and the European-origin majority in the United States are more likely to develop eating disorders, said the experts.

"In acculturated Latinas, the rates of eating disorders are equivalent to those seen in American women," Pumariega said.

In Latin America, said Weder, eating disorders are far less prevalent than in the United States, where some eight million people -- most of them women -- are estimated to suffer from the mental condition that can result in dangerous complications such as heart conditions and kidney failure.

"In Latin America, we don't have the same pressure to be thin as here. You come here and you're expected to weigh 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) less," Weder said.

Young Latin American girls battle the higher-calorie diets and more sedentary lifestyle in the United States and the ultra-slim ideal held up in the media as they seek to be accepted by their American peers.

"So they yo-yo diet, take laxatives or diuretics, and before you know it they're in dangerous territory," said Pumariega.

Latinas are also under pressure from within their own culture, which traditionally tends to accept male success-stories more readily than those involving women.

"In the Latino culture, if a man succeeds, it's more accepted than if a woman did," said Weder.

"There's a movie about a poor Latina from California who goes off to university in New York, and her mother won't talk to her anymore because of it," said Pumariega.

"If you changed the gender of the protagonist in the movie -- 'Real Women Have Curves' -- he would be a hero and his mother would have a huge picture of him hanging in the living room," he said.

Few Latinas seek help for a mental condition such as depression or suicide ideation, the experts said.

"They say 'dejadez', let it go, we'll solve it ourselves," said Huertas-Goldman.

"And that sort of withdrawal into isolation spells danger."

Source: AFP

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