Limited English proficiency as a barrier to mental health service use: a study of Latino and Asian immigrants with psychiatric disorders

J Psychiatr Res. 2011 Jan;45(1):104-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.04.031. Epub 2010 May 26.


Language barriers pose problems in mental health care for foreign-born individuals in the United States. Immigrants with psychiatric disorders may be at particular risk but are currently understudied. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of limited English proficiency (LEP) on mental health service use among immigrant adults with psychiatric disorders. Drawn from the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS), Latino and Asian immigrant adults aged 18-86 with any instrument-determined mood, anxiety, and substance use disorder (n = 372) were included in the present analysis. Results from hierarchical logistic regression analyses showed that having health insurance, poor self-rated mental health, and more psychiatric disorders were independently associated with higher probability of mental health service use in the Latino group. After controlling for all background characteristics and mental health need factors, LEP significantly decreased odds of mental health service use among Latino immigrants. None of the factors including LEP predicted mental health service use among Asian immigrants, who were also the least likely to access such services. LEP was a barrier to mental health service use among Latino immigrants with psychiatric disorders. This study suggests that future approaches to interventions might be well advised to include not only enhancing the availability of bilingual service providers and interpretation services but also increasing awareness of such options for at least Latino immigrants. In addition, further investigation is needed to identify factors that can enhance access to mental health care services among Asians.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asians / psychology*
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Young Adult