Black Students Less Likely To Get Mental Health Care Than White Students Says Study, Sparking Racism Concerns

Ershad Kaleebullah

A startling new study claims that black and Hispanic children and young adults are half as likely as white students to receive treatment for mental health problems. This study raises racism concerns because the racial and ethnic disparity exists despite the fact that both minorities have a similar rate of mental problems as that of white students.

The study, led by Dr. Lyndonna Marrast, who was with the Harvard Medical School when the research was initiated for the International Journal of Health Services, is based on data collected from children under 18 and young adults in the age group of 18 to 34. The research study covered all the 50 states in the U.S. between the years 2006 and 2012.

An abstract from the extensive study follows.

"We examined racial and ethnic disparities in children's and young adults' receipt of mental health and substance abuse care using nationally representative data from the 2006–2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys. Blacks' and Hispanics' visit rates (and per capita expenditures) were about half those of non-Hispanic whites for all types and definitions of outpatient mental health services. Disparities were generally larger for young adults than for children. Black and white children had similar psychiatric inpatient and emergency department utilization rates, while Hispanic children had lower hospitalization rates. Multivariate control for mental health impairment, demographics, and insurance status did not attenuate racial/ethnic disparities in outpatient care. We conclude that psychiatric and behavioral problems among minority youth often result in school punishment or incarceration, but rarely mental health care."

A press release issued by Physicians for a National Health Program states, "Whites received about three times more outpatient mental health services than blacks and Hispanics in this age group. The substance abuse counseling rate for black young adults was strikingly low, about one-seventh that for whites."

Interestingly, the study reports that differences in income and insurance did not account for racial disparities in mental health care. Female children got less mental health care than boys and the gender difference was reversed when it came to young adults, with women visiting the psychiatrist or a mental health professional more often than their male counterparts.

Marrast notes in the study, "It has become increasingly clear that minorities are over-represented 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." This statement by Marrast actually sparks concerns of racism in health care.

Adding weight to the racism concern, study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler highlights that punishing people for mental illness or addiction is both inhumane and ineffective. She concludes by emphasizing that the lack of care for minority youth is the real crime.

In fact, racism in health care is not a new trend. A recent report had also suggested that half of the dermatologists weren't trained to spot cancer on black skin.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]