Study: Latinx youths who experience heart-focused anxiety face higher mental health risk

Jessica Yang
Michael ZvolenskyUniversity of Houston Newsroom

Michael Zvolensky, a psychology professor at the University of Houston, has discovered that the Latinx population who experience heart-focused anxiety could be more vulnerable to mental health disorders.

Zvolensky and his two colleagues are the authors of the only two studies on heart-related anxiety in the Latinx community. Their second study, published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, examines US-born Latinx young adults who have experienced prior trauma. Their traumas, which include racism and intergenerational distress, are often internalized and manifested as physical illnesses. Anxiety, for example, is often manifested as a headache or breathing problems.

Unfortunately, proper treatments for mental health disorders are often limited or nonexistent for these populations.

"Latinx persons underutilize mental health services compared to non-Latinx whites and are more likely to use primary care for the delivery of mental health services which are often inadequate for successfully addressing mental health problems,” said Zvolensky, whose research studies 169 young adult Latinx living with trauma.

Heart-focused anxiety is identified as a statistically crucial indicator for general depression and overall anxiety. It is hoped that this research would lead to efforts to develop specialized prevention methods to treat and minimize mental health issues.

"We can screen for heart-focused anxiety and that’s much more efficient and precise than screening for a whole range of mental health problems. If you reduce heart-focused anxiety, you do that person a great service because you’re likely decreasing their risk for a whole range of mental health problems. And that’s called precision medicine," added Zvolensky.

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