Espiritismo and Santeria: a gateway to child mental health services among Puerto Rican families?

Zerrate, M. C.; VanBronkhorst, Sara B.; Klotz, Jaimie; Caraballo, Angel A.; Canino, Glorisa; Bird, Hector R.; Duarte, Cristiane S.

Barriers to mental health care access among Latinx children contribute to mental health disparities. It is unclear whether traditional spiritual guides in Latinx communities may function more as gateway providers or in some instances as deterrents to mental health treatment. This study assesses whether family involvement in Espiritismo and/or Santeria, two forefront non-Christian spiritual traditions among Latinx families, is associated with mental health care utilization among Puerto Rican children in two contexts.

Data are from Waves 1–3 (2000–2004) of the Boricua Youth Study, a population-based longitudinal cohort study of Puerto Rican children from San Juan and Caguas, Puerto Rico (PR), and the South Bronx, New York (SBx), 5 to 17 years of age (N = 2491).

At baseline, 5.02% (n = 58) of the families reported involvement with Espiritismo and/or Santeria in the SBx and 3.64% (n = 52) in PR. Logistic regression models predicting mental health service use found, after adjusting for multiple risk and protective factors, that families involved with Espiritismo and/or Santeria were 2.41 times more likely (p = 0.0034) to use mental health services over the course of 3 years than children with no family involvement in these practices in the SBx. The same association was not found in PR.

The findings among PR families in the SBx lend support to the gateway provider model in which spiritual guides open doors to mental health treatment. Forming community connections between mental health providers and traditional spiritual groups may be a culturally considerate, fruitful approach to reducing barriers to mental health treatment among Latinx families.

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Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health

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Published Here
December 20, 2022


Religiosity and spirituality, Child mental health, Latino or Hispanic, Mental Health Access