Academic journal article Social Work Research

Acculturation and Depression among Puerto Ricans in the Mainland

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Acculturation and Depression among Puerto Ricans in the Mainland

Article excerpt

The relationship between acculturation and depression in a sample of 1,510 Puerto Ricans residing in the U.S. was examined. Acculturation was measured by assessing subjects' spoken, preferred, read, and written language. Depression was evaluated by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale. The scale yielded a three-factor structure for depression that included depressive affect/somatic, interpersonal, and positive affect dimensions. Low acculturation was associated with low positive affect. Higher acculturated men reported high levels of depressive affect/somatic symptoms. No curvilinear relationships were found. Implications of these findings for working with culturally diverse clients are discussed.

KEY WORDS: acculturation; CES-D; depression; Latinos; mental health


Demographic changes and global trends are contributing to a greater ethnic diversity in the United States. This "diversification" has important implications for the social work profession. For example, the Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice (NASW, 2001) charges social workers with the ethical responsibility to be culturally competent. Cultural competence, which entails acquiring culturally relevant knowledge and applying it to specific client situations "enable[s] a system, agency, or professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations" (NASW, 2000, p. 61). To meet this challenge, it is essential to gain a greater understanding of the unique factors that impinge on the lives of culturally diverse clients. One such factor is acculturation level, the extent to which a person has acquired and adopted new cultural information as a result of contact with the values, behaviors, and institutions of the host culture (Locke, 1992). Acculturation can greatly affect psychological functioning as it entails adjustments in person-environment fit for responding to new sociocultural conditions (Ramos, 1997).

The present study examined the relationship between acculturation level and depressive symptoms among Puerto Ricans on the mainland. The relation between these two variables has been documented, but the nature of this relation varies (Rogler, Cortes, & Magaldy, 1991). Furthermore, with few exceptions, this research has rarely taken into account culturally specific expressions of depression. This oversight needs attention, given data suggesting cross-cultural differences in the ways psychological distress may be manifested (Cortes, 2003). For some Puerto Ricans, the disruption of their person-environment fit in the face of cultural differences is compounded by a myriad of hardships associated with oppressive conditions. As a result, many are likely to need social services. An understanding of the complex interplay of acculturation and psychological distress, as well as the preferred modes to express this distress, can strengthen a social worker's cultural competence and ability to deliver culturally relevant services.


Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latino subgroup in the United States. Although they share some common characteristics with other Latinos, Puerto Ricans are very distinct. Part of this diversity stems from differences in national origin, racial and ancestral backgrounds, self-ascription, historical time depth, and the way they come into contact with mainstream society. For example, Puerto Ricans born on the island are U.S. citizens at birth, can be subject to military draft, and do not have to comply with immigration laws to enter the mainland. Yet, those residing in the island do not have the right to vote for president or to have a voting representative in Congress. Puerto Ricans migrated in significant numbers to the mainland between 1946 and 1964 (Parrillo, 2000). Their numbers rose from just over 2 million in 1980 to more than 3.4 million in 2001 (Parrillo; U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). Their migratory pattern, which appears circulatory, a back-and-forth movement between the island and mainland, is due in part to basic economic factors, particularly wages and employment conditions in both Puerto Rico and the United States (Rivera-Batiz & Santiago, 1994). …

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