Context Although political violence continues in parts of Central America, South
America, and Mexico, little is known about its relationship to the health
of Latino immigrants living in the United States.
Objective To determine (1) rates of exposure to political violence among Latino
adult primary care patients who have immigrated to the United States from
Central America, South America, and Mexico and its impact on mental health
and health-related quality of life and (2) frequency of disclosure of political
violence to primary care clinicians.
Design, Setting, and Participants Two-stage cluster design survey of a systematic sample of Latino immigrant
adults in 3 community-based primary care clinics in Los Angeles, conducted
from July 2001 to February 2002.
Main Outcome Measures Reports of exposure to political violence in home country before immigrating
to the United States and communication with clinicians about political violence;
self-reported measures of health-related quality of life using the Medical
Outcomes Study Short Form 36 (MOS SF-36); symptoms of depression, anxiety,
and alcohol disorders using the Primary Care Evaluation of Mental Disorders
(PRIME-MD); and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) using the
PTSD Checklist–Civilian Version (PCL-C).
Results A total of 638 (69%) of 919 eligible patients participated. The nonresponse
rates did not differ by age, sex, recruitment sites, or clinic sessions. In
weighted analyses, 54% of participants reported political violence experiences
in their home countries, including 8% who reported torture. Of those exposed
to political violence, 36% had symptoms of depression and 18% had symptoms
of PTSD vs 20% and 8%, respectively, among those not exposed to political
violence. Controlling for age, sex, country, years lived in the United States,
acculturation, income, health insurance status, and recruitment site in a
subsample of 512 participants (56%), those who reported political violence
exposure were more likely to meet symptom criteria for PTSD (adjusted odds
ratio [AOR], 3.4; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.4-8.4) and to have symptoms
of depression (AOR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.4-5.4) and symptoms of panic disorder (AOR,
4.8; 95% CI, 1.6-14.4) than participants not reporting political violence.
Those exposed to political violence reported more chronic pain and role limitations
due to physical problems, as well as worse physical functioning and lower
perceptions of general health than those who were not exposed to political
violence. Only 3% of the 267 patients who had experienced political violence
reported ever telling a clinician about it after immigrating; none reported
their current physician asking about political violence.
Conclusion Latino immigrants in primary care in Los Angeles have a high prevalence
of exposure to political violence before immigrating to the United States
and associated impairments in mental health and health-related quality of