Largest study of Hispanics/Latinos finds depression and anxiety rates vary widely among groups

October 20, 2014

October 20, 2014 - (BRONX, NY) - Rates of depression and anxiety vary widely among different segments of the U.S. Hispanic and Latino population, with the highest prevalence of depressive symptoms in Puerto Ricans, according to a new report from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). The researchers' findings also suggest that depression and anxiety may be undertreated among Hispanics and Latinos, particularly if they are uninsured. The study was published online in Annals of Epidemiology.

"Various studies have looked at the mental health of Hispanics and Latinos, but most have focused on people of Mexican background or looked only at broad groupings of nationalities," said lead author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D., distinguished university professor emerita of epidemiology & population health and co-principal investigator of HCHS/SOL at Einstein. "Our study has found that mental health problems differ among the various groups comprising this population, suggesting that healthcare workers should look more closely at subgroups of Hispanics and Latinos to deliver appropriate mental health services."

HCHS/SOL is the largest, most comprehensive study of the health of people of Hispanic/Latino origin--specifically, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans, and Central and South Americans. From 2008 to 2011, the study sampled more than 16,000 Hispanics/Latinos ages 18 to 74 in four diverse communities (New York, Chicago, San Diego, and Miami). At the start of the study, all participants filled out two 10-item questionnaires on depression and anxiety asking how often they had experienced symptoms of depression in the past week and how often they suffered from anxiety symptoms such as nervousness and restlessness. While these measures did not provide a clinical diagnosis for depression and/or anxiety disorder, they reflect commonly reported symptoms of these two conditions.

Overall, 27 percent of Hispanics/Latinos in the study reported high levels of depressive symptoms, with a low of 22.3 percent among people of Mexican background and a high of 38 percent among those of Puerto Rican background.

One of the study's most compelling findings was the relatively low use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications among Hispanics and Latinos. Overall, only 5 percent of the study sample used antidepressants, even though depression affected 27 percent of this population. Antidepressant usage varied widely according to insurance status: 8.2 percent of insured people used antidepressants vs. 1.8 percent of uninsured. (In contrast, 13.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites ages 12 and over take antidepressants, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is a significant concern, as it suggests that depression and anxiety may not be adequately treated in the Hispanic/Latino community," said Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller.

Anti-anxiety medications were used by 2.5 percent of Hispanics/Latinos, with use significantly higher among people with cardiovascular disease. For example, anti-anxiety medications were used by 20.3 percent of people who had suffered strokes; 19.5 percent of people who had undergone revascularization procedures such as coronary artery bypass graft surgery; and 14.4 percent of people who'd had heart attacks.

"The main message of this study is that physicians need to pay more attention to depression and anxiety among Hispanics and Latinos," Dr. Wassertheil-Smoller noted. "Our findings also have important implications for managing cardiovascular disease. When patients already have cardiovascular disease, we know that being depressed worsens their prognosis."

Among the other findings in the Annals of Epidemiology paper:
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The paper, titled, "Depression, anxiety, antidepressant use, and cardiovascular disease among Hispanic men and women of different national backgrounds: results from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL)," was published online September 13, 2014. The other contributors are E.M. Arredondo (San Diego State University, San Diego, CA), JianWen Cai (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC), Sheila F. Castaneda (San Diego State University, San Diego, CA), James P. Choca (San Diego State University), Linda Gallo (University of North Carolina), Molly Jung (Einstein), Lisa M. LaVange (University of North Carolina), Elizabeth T. Lee-Rey (Einstein), Thomas Mosley Jr. (University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS), Frank J. Penedo (Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL), D.A. Santistaban (University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL), and P.C. Zee (Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL).

The HCHS/SOL was supported by contracts from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to various institutions, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine (N01-HC65235). All authors report no conflict of interest.

About Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University

Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University is one of the nation's premier centers for research, medical education and clinical investigation. During the 2013-2014 academic year, Einstein is home to 743 M.D. students, 275 Ph.D. students, 103 students in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program, and 313 postdoctoral research fellows. The College of Medicine has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members located on the main campus and at its clinical affiliates. In 2013, Einstein received more than $150 million in awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This includes the funding of major research centers at Einstein in aging, intellectual development disorders, diabetes, cancer, clinical and translational research, liver disease, and AIDS. Other areas where the College of Medicine is concentrating its efforts include developmental brain research, neuroscience, cardiac disease, and initiatives to reduce and eliminate ethnic and racial health disparities. Its partnership with Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital and academic medical center for Einstein, advances clinical and translational research to accelerate the pace at which new discoveries become the treatments and therapies that benefit patients. Through its extensive affiliation network involving Montefiore, Jacobi Medical Center -- Einstein's founding hospital, and three other hospital systems in the Bronx, Brooklyn and on Long Island, Einstein runs one of the largest residency and fellowship training programs in the medical and dental professions in the United States. For more information, please visit www.einstein.yu.edu, read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and view us on YouTube.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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