Black and Hispanic students have a more difficult time getting proper mental health treatment than their white peers, even if they have similar rates of mental health problems, a new study suggests.
Dr. Lyndonna Marrast, lead author from the Harvard Medical School, and colleagues analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey on children under 18 years old, and adults aged 18 to 34 years old. The information covered all 50 states between 2006 to 2012, Tech Times reports.
The study found that minorities received less mental health care of all kinds, including social work visits, psychologist and psychiatrist sessions, and counseling for substance abuse.
Black and Hispanic children are reportedly 50% less likely to receive mental health care compared to whites. Blacks paid 37% fewer and Latinos 49% fewer visits to a psychiatrist. Black kids also visited mental health professionals 47% less, Latinos 58% less.
The low mental health care rates were not because minorities needed them less. In fact, the researchers found that black and white kids had almost the same rates of mental health issues and the same rates of mental health episodes that led to emergency room visits and psychiatric hospitalization.
The disparities proved even bigger for young adults, as the researchers said whites received three times more outpatient mental health services than their black or Latino counterparts. The rate of counseling for substance abuse for young black adults was abysmally low, around one-seventh percent of that for white young adults.
While impoverished black and Hispanic kids and young adults experienced lower rates of mental health care, poverty was not a factor in the racial disparities, the researchers said. Gender was, however, as girls received less mental health treatment than boys. It was reversed for adults, with more women getting treatment compared to men.
Also, black children were found to receive excessive disciplinary sanctions in schools such as suspensions and expulsions, while white children receive counseling for behavioral problems.
Marrast says their findings show a clear underrepresentation of minorities in mental health treatment, and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. She and Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, her co-author on the study, are asking officials to take a closer look at health care institutions and their services to all members of society.
The study was published in the International Journal of Health Services.