Latinos living in California suffer great disparities in the services they receive for the prevention and treatment of mental illnesses, a new report said.

Community-Defined Solutions for Latino Mental Health Care Disparities, prepared by the Center for Reducing Health Disparities at the University of California, Davis, identified depression, anxiety disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse as the commonest problems in the Hispanic community.

"Untreated mental illnesses among Latinos lower their life expectancy by about 25 years," the principal author of the study, Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and director of the Community Engagement program at the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, told Efe.

The expert said that, though some mental health problems become apparent at younger ages than other chronic illnesses, "very few Latinos get the right treatment at the right time."

The study used information gathered at community forums in 13 cities and two high schools.

The forums were held in San Diego, Arcadia, Carson, Los Angeles and Solvang in Southern California; Fresno, Sacramento, Camino and Stockton in the central region; Oakland and San Jose in the Bay Area; Salinas on the central coast and Chico in the northern part of Sacramento Valley.

The team also met with close to 90 students at Huntington Park and Tracy high schools and from California State University, Dominguez Hills, to try and identify the chief mental health problems in educational centers and evaluate the services offered.

One of the principal obstacles found among the more than 550 participants in the study was the element of shame surrounding mental illness that keeps many Hispanics from seeking mental health services.

"The stigma factor is one of the main obstacles to treating these problems," Aguilar-Gaxiola said, adding that the sense of shame can be instigated by society, the media or the patients themselves, and that the solution is to do a better job of educating people on the subject.

"There's no doubt that the solution to the problem, both for adults and young people, lies in educating them so they understand that these problems are illnesses that, like diabetes or any other, can be treated and that we can all have some kind of psychological disorder," he said.

"My mother receives mental health care services but she is still in denial," a participant said at one of the community forums, adding that his parent never wanted to "speak clearly" about her plight, even to the professional treating her.

Some of the solutions proposed in the forums were to establish student mental health programs that would allow an early diagnosis of potential problems, as well as educating students and their families on the subject. 

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