Black and Hispanic students are less likely to get proper mental health treatment than their white counterparts despite having similar rates of mental health problems, a new study shows.
Led by Dr. Lyndonna Marrast, of the Harvard Medical School, researchers examined data involving youngsters under 18 years old and young adults aged 18 to 34 years old. The information was gathered from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey that covered all 50 states from 2006 to 2012.
The report discovered that minorities received less of all kinds of mental health care, such as visits to social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as counseling for mental health and substance abuse.
Marrast and her colleagues also found the following:
• Black young adults and children are about 50 percent as likely to receive mental health care compared to their white counterparts. Hispanic children also get about 50 percent of the mental health care attention that white children receive.
• Latino and black kids made 49 percent and 37 percent less visits to psychiatrists, respectively; and 58 percent and 47 percent fewer visits to any mental health professional than their white counterparts.
• Researchers say the low use of mental health services among black kids was not because of less need. In fact, black and white children had nearly comparable rates of mental health issues, as well as the same rates of severe episodes that led to emergency visits and psychiatric hospitalization.
• Hispanic parents reported a fewer number of mental health problems among their children, but findings that controlled for less need revealed underuse among Hispanic children.
• The ethnic or racial disparities are even higher among young adults. White young adults received thrice more outpatient mental health services than their Hispanic and black counterparts. Additionally, the rate of counselling for substance abuse for black young adults was significantly low, only about one-seventh percent of that for white young adults.
• Poor kids and young adults experienced lower rates of mental health care, but differences in income was not a factor in the ethnic/racial disparities in treatment.
• Among kids, girls received less mental health treatment than boys. Among young adults, the gender difference is reversed, with women getting more visits.
• Those groups with highest risks for imprisonment (Hispanic and black young men) experienced particularly low rates of mental health visits. Statistics from the Department of Justice reveal that at least 50 percent of prisoners suffer from mental illness that had not been treated when they were arrested.
• Black children experience excessive rates of discipline in school such as expulsions and suspensions whereas white children receive counseling for behavioral problems.
Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, Marrast's study co-author, says minority kids and teens do not get the help they need when they're in trouble. Instead, the kids get jailed or expelled.
"[P]unishing people for mental illness or addiction is both inhumane and ineffective," says Woolhander. "The lack of care for minority youth is the real crime."
Marrast says it has become evident that minorities are underrepresented in receiving mental health treatment, but are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. She urges officials to look closely at how health care institutions are serving all members of society.
The findings of the new study are published in the International Journal of Health Services.