What Do We Know About the Psychological Distress of Latino Veterans in California?



By Yessenia Mayorga, MSW Candidate, and Janaki Santhiveeran, PhD, School of Social Work, CSULB.

Recent scholarly work has created renewed interest on the topic of “psychological distress” as it relates to life satisfaction and physical wellness. Psychological distress is a concept often used to express an individual’s well-being and satisfaction with life (Seligowski, et al., 2013).

Psychological distress deliberately encompasses depression and anxiety symptoms. Recent research shows that 17% to 19% of returning military service members were screened positive for psychological disruptions (Campbell & Riggs, 2015). Being divorced, separated, or widowed was found to be correlated with higher psychological distress (Golub, et al., 2013). Psychological distress was found to be higher among veterans (40%) of a lower social economic status in comparison to the general population (Golub, et al., 2013). Veterans 21-43 years of age are more likely to experience psychological distress when compared to other age groups and women were more likely to have psychological distress than men (Golub, et al., 2013).

Using a research study involving 235 adults, we demonstrate the state of psychological distress experienced by various groups of Latino veterans in California. The researchers retrieved data from the 2016 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS, 2016) Adult Survey. The sample included males (88.1%), females (11.9%) and Mexicans (66.8%). More than half (55.3%) completed high school or less and 44.7% reported receiving or completing some college education and above. The length of time served in the military varied between 6 months to 20+ years.

There was a statistically significant association between individuals who reported being 59 years and younger (M=3.86) and those individuals who reported being 60 years and older (M=2.50) in their psychological distress (t[233]=2.559, p<.011). There is a statistically significant association between individuals who were poor (M=4.61) and individuals who were not poor (M=2.06) in their psychological distress (t[233]=-4.919, p<.005). There is a statistically significant association between individuals who reported being single, with no kids (M=3.66) and those who reported having a spouse and kids (M=2.59) in their psychological distress (t[233]=2.017, p<.045). There is a statistically significant association between individuals who had a disability due to physical/mental/emotional condition (M=4.51) and those individuals who did not have a disability (M=1.91) in their psychological distress (t[233]=5.134, p<.005).

Some of the trends continue in this study similar to prior research (Golub et al., 2013).  For example, Latino veterans who were poor reported the highest psychological distress score in this present study followed by disabled Latino veterans. This deliberately shows the socioeconomic disadvantages and their negative impact on mental health of Latino veterans. Latino veterans who were not disabled and who were above the poverty line reported low in their psychological distress. Research supports the importance of social support and social work interventions for emotional regulation of veterans to help them reintegrate effectively (Phelps, et al., 2012; Romero, et al., 2015). Unlike prior studies (Golub, et al., 2013), there was no significant difference between male and female Latino veterans in their psychological distress. This might be due to a large sample of men in this study sample.

The study findings have implications to social work and VAMC. The study findings raise several questions on the conundrums of social support, asking whether, in fact, social workers play a vital role to assess and offer treatments for veterans when they display signs of psychological distress. To explore this issue, future research is needed to understand the predictors of psychological distress among various veteran groups in California, especially in a growing population such as the Latino/Hispanic community. We conclude that the groups identified in this study—such as those who are poor, disabled, and single with no kids—need comprehensive community-based services and preventive services to prevent psychological distress among the Latino veteran population in California to integrate them successfully into society.


California Health Interview Survey (2016). Adult Questionnaire. Retrieved from http://healthpolicy.ucla.edu/chis/design/Documents/_CHIS2015AdultQuestionnaire.pdf.

Campbell, R., & Riggs, S. A. (2015). The Role of Psychological Symptomatology and Social Support in the Academic Adjustment of Previously Deployed Student Veterans. Journal of American College Health, 63(7), 473–481.

Golub, A., Vazan, P., Bennett, A. S., & Liberty, H. J. (2013). Unmet need for treatment of substance use disorders and serious psychological distress among veterans: A nationwide analysis using the NSDUH. Military Medicine, 178(1), 107–114.

Phelps, K., Hodgson, J., Lamson, A., Swanson, M., & White, M. (2012). Satisfaction with Life and Psychosocial Factors among Underserved Minorities with Type 2 Diabetes. Social Indicators Research, 106(2), 359–370.

Romero, D. H., Riggs, S. A., & Ruggero, C. (2015). Coping, Family Social Support, and Psychological Symptoms Among Student Veterans. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(2), 242-252.

Seligowski, A. V., Pless Kaiser, A. P., Niles, B. L., Mori, D. L., King, L. A., & King, D. W. (2013). Sleep Quality as a Potential Mediator Between Psychological Distress and Diabetes Quality of Life in Veterans with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(10), 1121–1131.