A new study shines light on the inequality found in the mental health care system when it comes to ethnicity.
The researchers of the new study, led by Dr. Lyndonna Marrast, who was a fellow at of the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance at that time, observed that Black and Hispanic children and young adults were less likely to receive mental health care compared to their white counterparts even though the rate of mental problems experienced are similar. The study was published in the International Journal of Health Services. Dr. Lyndonna Marrast is currently an assistant professor of medicine at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in New York. The co-authors of the study include Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein. They are both professors at the City University of New York at Hunter College and Harvard Medical School lecturers.
Data on children under 18 and young adults (aged 18-34) was used from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for this study. The survey covered all 50 states in the U.S. The data was collected from the years 2006 to 2012. The researchers observed that rates of receiving virtually all kind of mental health care was comparatively low in minorities. The health care services included visits to psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. Minorities also received less mental health counseling and substance abuse counseling by pediatricians and other doctors.
The detailed results from the study showed that compared to while children black children made 37% less visits to psychiatrists and 47% less visits to any mental health professional. Comparatively Hispanic children made 49% fewer visits to psychiatrists and 58% fewer visits to professionals belonging to the mental health field compared to their white counterparts.
The decrease in mental health services was not because the need for mental health care was less in black children. Analysis proved that the rates of mental health problems were similar in both black and white children. They even had similar rates of severe episodes that led to emergency visits or psychiatric hospitalization.
Mental health care requirement in Hispanic children was reported to be less by Hispanic parents. However, analysis in which the need of lesser care was controlled still saw an underuse of mental health care services by Hispanic children compared to non-Hispanic whites.
The disparities were observed to be even larger in young adults. Blacks and Hispanics received three times lesser outpatient mental health services compared to white young adults. The rate of substance abuse counseling was even lower, about one-seventh of what was seen in whites.
The study showed that the difference in income and insurance was not accountable for the differences seen in mental health care rates even though it was low in poor colored children and young adults.
With regards to gender, boys received more mental health care compared to girls as children. But in young adults the difference was reversed. Women had more visits compared to men among young adults.
The low rate of mental health care visits among young adults was even lower in black and Hispanic men. The two minorities are also at the highest risk of incarceration. Close to half of the inmates suffer from mental illness, according to data shared by the Department of Justice. Most of the inmates aren’t treated for their illness when arrested.
Dr. Marrast and the co-authors of the study write that “The under-provision of mental health care for minority children contrasts starkly with the high frequency of punitive sanctions that their behaviors elicit. Black children suffer excessive rates of school discipline such as suspensions and expulsions starting at preschool ages. Minority teens also have disproportionate contact with the juvenile justice system, with higher arrest rates for nonviolent, low-level offenses such as drug possession, as well as for non-criminal misbehaviors such as truancy and curfew violations. Youthful transgressions that might result in referral for treatment among non-minority children more often incur criminal sanctions for minorities.”
The authors of the study also went on to say that the high rates of arrest for substance abuse contrasted with the very low substance abuse treatment rates found in minorities. “It has become increasingly clear that minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and underrepresented in the receipt of mental health care. We need to look closely at how equitably our health care institutions are serving all segments of society,” said Dr. Marrast.
Dr. Woolhandler also shared an opinion and said that “Minority kids don’t get help when they’re in trouble. Instead they get expelled or jailed. But punishing people for mental illness or addiction is both inhumane and ineffective. The lack of care for minority youth is the real crime.”
Here’s to hoping that the current research urges the American mental health care system to do something about minorities not receiving the help that they need.