Unmet Mental Health Need Among Chinese and Latino Primary Care Patients: Intersection of Ethnicity, Gender, and English Proficiency

Maria E. Garcia, Ladson Hinton, Steven E. Gregorich, Jennifer Livaudais-Toman, Celia Kaplan, Leah Karliner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Ethnic minorities who present with mental health symptoms in primary care are less likely to receive treatment than non-Hispanic whites; language barriers may magnify this disparity. Objective: We examined the contributions of ethnicity, gender, and English proficiency to unmet mental health need. Design: Cross-sectional study. Participants: Chinese and Latino primary care patients with a preferred language of English, Cantonese, Mandarin, or Spanish. Main Measures: Participants were interviewed within 1 week of a primary care visit and asked whether in the prior year they (1) needed help with emotional or mental health symptoms and (2) had seen a primary care physician or a mental health professional for these symptoms. Among those who reported “mental health need,” we defined “unmet mental health need” as no reported use of services for these symptoms. Regression models explored independent and interaction effects among ethnicity, gender, and English proficiency, on the two outcomes. Key Results: Among 1149 participants (62% women; 262 Chinese, with English proficiency [EP], 532 Chinese, with limited English proficiency [LEP], 172 Latino with EP; and 183 Latino with LEP), 33% reported mental health need. Among Chinese, but not Latino, participants, those with LEP were more likely than those with EP to report mental health need (AOR 2.55, 95% CI 1.73–3.76). Women were more likely to report mental health need than men (AOR 1.35, 1.03–1.79) regardless of ethnicity or English proficiency. Among participants reporting mental health need, 41% had unmet mental health need. Men with LEP, compared with those with EP, were more likely to have unmet mental health need regardless of ethnicity (AOR 2.53, 1.06–6.04). Conclusions: We found high levels of mental health symptoms and unmet mental health need in both Chinese and Latino primary care patients. These results affirm the need to implement depression screening and targeted treatment interventions for patient subgroups at highest risk of untreated symptoms, such as men with LEP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019


  • language barriers
  • limited English proficiency
  • mental health need
  • mental health-related service use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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