Research Shows Racial Disparities in Mental Health Care

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A new study published in Health Services Research suggests that African-Americans and Latinos receive less adequate mental health care than white citizens receive.

“We found that Blacks and Latinos [remain] in care, including using outpatient services and filling psychotropic drugs, for a shorter time than whites,” said lead study author, Benjamin Le Cook, Ph.D. M.P.H., assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Furthermore, since Blacks often wait longer to get help, they are more likely to end up in a psychiatric ER or psychiatric inpatient facility to treat their mental illness.”

Not only are these minorities not receiving the same amount or level of care, the report also says there is a significant difference in how they seek mental health care, as News-Medical explains.

The study examined responses from 47,903 White, Black, and Latino adults over the age of 18 who all took the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), which regards probably need for mental health of substance abuse care.

While 40 percent of Caucasians with a likely need for mental health care looked for treatment, only 27 percent of Latinos and African-Americans sought care. Even insurance didn’t improve the findings for the minorities. Le Cook stated, “while insurance increases mental health access, adequacy of care is low for those with and without insurance […] These problems are not likely to be eliminated after insurance coverage expansion.”

The researchers did suggest that efforts to decrease racial disparities in mental health care might focus on improving identification of clinical need among minorities and initial engagement in treatment by minorities.

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