Mexican American parents' beliefs about their adolescent's mental health and parental use of alternative interventions



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The Mexican American population is the largest and fastest growing Latino subgroup in the United States. Research has indicated Mexican Americans experience as many, if not more, mental health problems as other ethnic groups, including anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, simple phobia, drug and alcohol abuse, and increased rates of suicide. Mexican Americans, however, are among some of the most underserved by the mental health community. Little research, however, has focused on parents’ beliefs about their adolescents’ mental health, their utilization of mainstream mental health services, or their use of alternative resources for addressing their adolescent’s problems. This is particularly troubling given Mexican American youth have disproportionately high rates of substance abuse, delinquency, depression and suicide. Mexican American youth’s utilization patterns mirror those of adults, with lower rates of utilization than their peers of other ethnicities, and higher rates of early termination of treatment. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine a number of topics related to Mexican American mothers’ perspectives on adolescent mental health, including factors that contribute to problems, steps parents would be willing to take to help their adolescent, their beliefs about the use of mental health professionals, and their use of alternatives such as curanderos, priests, or family reliance to address their adolescent mental health problems. Participants were 27 mothers of adolescents who identify themselves as being of Mexican descent (Mexican; Mexican American). Mothers who agreed to participate were interviewed in person using a semi-structured interview format. The results revealed considerable consistency in the participants’ views regardless of family history, adolescent problems faced, language spoken, and their generation in the U.S. The results of this study indicated that the Mexican American mothers who participated were attuned to adolescent functioning, with a keen sense for determining whether their adolescent is experiencing problems. The participants were able to navigate a complex system that involved considering other resources in their surroundings to address their adolescent’s problems. Overall, participants indicated positive regard toward the use of family, church, schools, and professionals in helping their adolescent, while the use of traditional folk healers, such as curanderos, was only minimally indicated.