Limited English proficiency and psychological distress among Latinos and Asian Americans

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Sep;75(6):1006-14. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.05.012. Epub 2012 Jun 4.


English proficiency is increasingly recognized as an important factor that is related to the mental health of immigrants and ethnic minorities. However, few studies have examined how the association between English proficiency and mental health operates and whether the pattern of association is similar or different among various ethnic minority groups. This paper investigates how limited English proficiency directly and indirectly affects psychological distress through pathways of discrimination for both Latinos and Asian Americans in the United States. Findings suggest that, for Asian Americans, limited English proficiency has an independent relationship with psychological distress over and above demographic variables, socioeconomic and immigration-related factors and discrimination. For Latinos, however, socio-demographic variables and discrimination show a stronger association than limited English proficiency in affecting psychological distress. Different forms of discrimination - everyday discrimination and racial/ethnic discrimination - are equally important for both ethnic groups. Findings underscore the differential role of limited English proficiency for the mental health of Asian Americans and Latinos and suggest the distinctive racial experiences and backgrounds of these two ethnic groups.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asian / psychology*
  • Asian / statistics & numerical data
  • Communication Barriers*
  • Female
  • Hispanic or Latino / psychology*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Minority Groups / psychology*
  • Minority Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Multilingualism*
  • Prejudice*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / ethnology*
  • United States
  • Young Adult