racial disparity

You can define disparities as unfair differences. In mental health, you can further define it as an unfair difference in access to and quality of care. Racial disparities can be defined as being denied access to or receiving lower-quality care based on your race.

Research suggests that minorities, particularly those who identify themselves as African Americans, have poorer mental health outcomes. Consider these findings as reported in “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General” and its supplement, “Mental Health, Culture, Race, and Ethnicity,” using data collected through The National Comorbidity Survey and analyzed by Doctor Thomas McGuire of Harvard Medical School. Racial and ethnic minorities:

  • Have less access to mental health services than whites.
  • Are less likely to receive needed mental health care.
  • Receive poorer quality care.
  • Are less likely to seek out treatment.
  • Are more likely to leave treatment prematurely.
  • Are less likely to receive appropriate treatment for substance abuse, depression, and anxiety.
  • Spend less money on mental health care.

What Causes the Racial Discrepancy?

There are at least two factors that cause the racial discrepancy. The attitude of some providers is to blame. They may stereotype patients according to their race and provide different care to those in a minority or ethnic community than their white heterosexual patients. They may also fail to diagnose or misdiagnose a patient because they are a member of a particular group. Some medical doctors believe minorities are less likely to adhere to treatment plans and, therefore, are less likely to refer them to a mental health professional.

Racial Mental Health Policy Discrepancies

Secondly, there may be policies that are causing racial discrimination in the mental health community. For example, Medicare limits people to 190 days of lifetime inpatient psychiatric hospital care while not placing this restriction on any other illness. In some states, Medicaid will not cover residential treatment in a mental health hospital with fewer than 16 beds. The lack of employment and adequate housing makes it more difficult for people to seek and continue mental health treatment.

If you are a member of a racial or ethnic minority, you must be your own advocate. Work with groups to get laws changed. Seek out treatment and follow treatment plans when you need it.



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