Context: Although political violence continues in parts of Central America, South America, and Mexico, little is known about its relationship to the health of Latino immigrants living in the United States.
Objective: To determine (1) rates of exposure to political violence among Latino adult primary care patients who have immigrated to the United States from Central America, South America, and Mexico and its impact on mental health and health-related quality of life and (2) frequency of disclosure of political violence to primary care clinicians.
Design, setting, and participants: Two-stage cluster design survey of a systematic sample of Latino immigrant adults in 3 community-based primary care clinics in Los Angeles, conducted from July 2001 to February 2002.
Main outcome measures: Reports of exposure to political violence in home country before immigrating to the United States and communication with clinicians about political violence; self-reported measures of health-related quality of life using the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form 36 (MOS SF-36); symptoms of depression, anxiety, and alcohol disorders using the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders (PRIME-MD); and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) using the PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version (PCL-C).
Results: A total of 638 (69%) of 919 eligible patients participated. The nonresponse rates did not differ by age, sex, recruitment sites, or clinic sessions. In weighted analyses, 54% of participants reported political violence experiences in their home countries, including 8% who reported torture. Of those exposed to political violence, 36% had symptoms of depression and 18% had symptoms of PTSD vs 20% and 8%, respectively, among those not exposed to political violence. Controlling for age, sex, country, years lived in the United States, acculturation, income, health insurance status, and recruitment site in a subsample of 512 participants (56%), those who reported political violence exposure were more likely to meet symptom criteria for PTSD (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 3.4; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.4-8.4) and to have symptoms of depression (AOR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.4-5.4) and symptoms of panic disorder (AOR, 4.8; 95% CI, 1.6-14.4) than participants not reporting political violence. Those exposed to political violence reported more chronic pain and role limitations due to physical problems, as well as worse physical functioning and lower perceptions of general health than those who were not exposed to political violence. Only 3% of the 267 patients who had experienced political violence reported ever telling a clinician about it after immigrating; none reported their current physician asking about political violence.
Conclusion: Latino immigrants in primary care in Los Angeles have a high prevalence of exposure to political violence before immigrating to the United States and associated impairments in mental health and health-related quality of life.