Study Shows Disparity in Mental Health Care Between Hispanic Children and White Children
According to a study published last week in the International Journal of Health Services, Hispanic youths are only half as likely as their white counterparts to receive mental health care despite having similar rates of mental health issues.
The study used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which covered all 50 states between 2006 and 2012. The research revealed that minorities, including blacks and Hispanics, received much less mental health assistance across all fields of psychiatric care, including visits to psychiatrists and social workers as well as counseling for substance abuse.
Specifically, researchers found that black and Latino children had, respectively, 47% and 58% fewer visits to any sort of mental health professional, than white children. Yet, their infrequent use of services was not due to lower instances of mental health issues.
They found that racial and ethnic disparities were even more pronounced among young adults, with whites receiving about three times more outpatient mental health services than their black and Hispanic counterparts. Furthermore, groups at higher risk for incarceration had some of the lowest rates for mental health visits. Yet, according to the Department of Justice, at least half of inmates suffer from mental illness, most of which went untreated up until their arrest.
Leader of the research team Dr. Lyndonna Marrast said, “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.”
Similarly, co-author of the study Dr. Steffie Woolhandler stated, “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.”
The study focused on the ethnic and racial disparities in mental health care among children, but one has to wonder if the trend holds true for older Americans as well. As many as 14% of baby boomers are currently being treated for depression, which is a higher rate than any other generation of American adults. Of course, these individuals were children during a time when mental health was not as thoroughly understood as it is today. How did their upbringing affect their willingness to seek treatment later in life?