Race May Affect Rates of Mental Health Diagnosis, Treatment

Blurred pedestrians on tree-lined streetRace may be a significant factor in whether a person is diagnosed with a mental health condition. It may also influence which condition is diagnosed and whether the person receives treatment, according to a study published in Psychiatric Services. 

The study also notes a low overall rate of psychiatric diagnoses and treatment among all groups. About 25% of adults experience a mental health condition at any given time.

Ethnicity’s Effect on Mental Health Diagnosis and Treatment

To assess and compare treatment across groups, researchers gathered data from the Mental Health Research Network—a group of 11 not-for-profit health care systems. The data included information on 7,523,956 adults who sought psychiatric care in 2011 and provided details on use of medication, diagnostic history, and prevalence of psychotherapy.

The study uncovered several disparities. Native American and Alaskan Native participants had the highest rate of mental health diagnoses, at 20.6%. Asians had the lowest rate, at 7.5%. Non-Hispanic blacks were twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but were less likely to receive medication for their condition. Although they were diagnosed with mental health conditions at a lower rate, non-Hispanic whites were 77.8% more likely to receive medication than any other group.

The study also pointed toward underuse of psychotherapy—which can effectively treat a variety of mental health conditions—with or without medication. Only 34% of participants diagnosed with a mental health condition underwent psychotherapy.

Untangling the Connection Between Ethnicity and Treatment

The study did not assess what might be behind the differences in diagnosis and treatment. It is impossible to know from the data whether some ethnic minorities experience mental health conditions at a higher rate or whether doctors are simply more likely to notice their symptoms. If some multicultural groups do experience a higher rate of mental health conditions, it is unclear whether this is due to different life experiences or some other factor.

Likewise, the study does not reveal why some groups are more likely to receive treatment than others, or why therapy appears to be underused. The study’s authors suggest future research should look into whether treatment approaches and outcomes are equitable across multicultural groups.


  1. Coleman, K. J., Stewart, C., Waitzfelder, B. E., Zeber, J. E., Morales, L. S., Ahmed, A. T., . . . Simon, G. E. (2016). Racial-ethnic differences in psychiatric diagnoses and treatment across 11 health care systems in the mental health research network. Psychiatric Services. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201500217
  2. Racial and ethnic differences found in psychiatric diagnoses and treatment, according to researchers. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-05/gsu-rae051716.php

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  • Bill


    May 19th, 2016 at 11:00 AM

    The more I read about things like this happening the more it makes me want to fight and help to make some very serious changes in our country. It is ridiculous that we still have to worry about things like this happening. This kind of discrimination based solely on race and prejudices is simply intolerable. It is time for a serious change to be made, starting at the top and then working our way down.

  • marvin


    May 19th, 2016 at 2:31 PM

    could part of this stem from a lack of availability of services in these communities?

  • Lacey


    May 20th, 2016 at 9:32 AM

    All of these numbers… wow, I would not have believed the differences if I had not seen them here

  • micah


    May 21st, 2016 at 4:25 PM

    Why is psychotherapy being so under valued within certain populations?

  • Alexis


    May 24th, 2016 at 10:34 AM

    MY child is bi racial so I feel like I have vested interest in this situation. I am afraid that because of that he will never receive the same medical care that I have been privy to and that he will have to fight even harder for things just because of the color of his skin. Race should not make any sort of difference in what kind of treatment or medical care that you receive and it stuns me to continually learn that unfortunately it still does.

  • brynn


    May 25th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    Unbelievable. Everyone should have access to quality health care and should not have to worry about receiving the right care for them simply because they may look different .

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