At an international conference organized by the World Psychiatric Association, William A. Vega, executive director of the Edward R. Roybal Institute on Aging at the USC School of Social Work, discussed the mental health challenges facing Latinos in the United States.
The First International Conference on Cultural Psychiatry in the Spanish-Speaking World was held from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Barcelona, Spain. The conference is one of many gatherings organized by the association every year for its 135 psychiatric member societies that represent 200,000 psychiatrists from 117 different countries.
The goal of this particular gathering was to bring together researchers from Spanish-speaking nations to exchange knowledge and ideas about how to address growing concerns about the mental health of migrants.
Roughly two-thirds of Latinos over 35 years old in the United States are immigrants. Vega spoke about the unique mental health issues that Latinos must confront in the United States.
One of those challenges is the low availability of linguistically competent medical personnel and translators. Vega said Spanish-speaking Latinos are at a high risk for not understanding medication instructions.
He stressed the need for culturally competent clinical providers. Clinicians need to do more than understand the language – they must understand the specific meanings of cultural idioms that patients use to describe emotional problems, Vega said.
An elected member of the Institute of Medicine, Vega has conducted community and clinical research projects on health, mental health and substance abuse in the United States and Latin America.
He also is one of the leading experts on health disparities that affect aging ethnic minority populations.
The USC Roybal Institute, which he directs, is dedicated to translational research, policy advocacy and training that improves the health, mental health and care of older persons, particularly those from multiethnic backgrounds.