Over the past 20 years, there has been a steady rise in the percentage of Hispanic/Latino/Spanish-Speaking (HLS) service members within the active-duty and reserve components of the U.S. military. Today approximately 12 percent of active-duty personnel identify as Hispanic, three times the number of Hispanic service members in 1980. Factors including economic challenges and targeted recruiting efforts within the services indicate these numbers are expected to continue to rise in the future, making the HLS military community an important population for research and targeted outreach efforts within the Defense Department.
The Impact of Culture on Outreach
In order to engage with the HLS population, it’s important to first understand cultural differences and their impact. Cultural factors such as machismo – hyper masculine traits that include an individualistic mentality that values being strong and never revealing any type of weakness – and familismo – where family is the primary and most critical consideration for instrumental and emotional support – must be taken into consideration when planning successful outreach. Language barriers and level of acculturation (how much they identify with the dominant American culture) are other salient cultural factors with studies showing that only 39 percent of Hispanic service members are U.S. born and 31 percent report speaking Spanish at home.
Needs of the HLS Population
The Real Warriors Campaign’s recent direct engagement and outreach efforts in Puerto Rico with members of the HLS military and veteran community helped reinforce what is known about the impact of culture on outreach, and also helped us gain additional insights into the needs of this population. These include a significant lack of knowledge about – and availability of – help-seeking resources, the importance of family as a primary channel to engage HLS service members on psychological health, that families primarily speak Spanish, and the fact that they want to be able to see themselves in messaging (engaging them in their voice using stories and images that resonate with them through communication channels they engage on). Additionally, outreach efforts revealed that psychological health concerns such as PTSD, suicide and substance misuse are areas of concern. Studies about Hispanic service members support this finding and report higher incidences of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), struggles with depression, suicide and substance misuse for this population.
The Real Warriors Campaign – Next Steps
The need for outreach to the HLS population is clear. The Real Warriors Campaign, in its efforts to best reach this part of their target audience, has begun to provide resources and materials about psychological health concerns and help-seeking in Spanish. Next steps will involve taking other salient cultural factors and their impact into account when reaching out to the HLS military population. You can view or download “5 Questions to Ask Your Psychological Health Provider” and “5 Tips to Stay Mission Ready” in Spanish on the Real Warriors Campaign Materials site and watch a video podcast in Spanish “5 Tips to Manage Anger.”
Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee is a contracted psychological health subject matter expert on the Psychological Health Center of Excellence Real Warriors Campaign. She has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and she specializes in trauma, military mental health and multicultural psychology.
The views expressed in Clinician's Corner blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Psychological Health Center of Excellence or Department of Defense.