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Race/Ethnicity Influence Diagnosis & Treatment of Mental Illness

Race/Ethnicity Influence Diagnosis & Treatment of Mental Illness

New research discovers significant racial-ethnic differences in diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric conditions.

Investigators discovered non-Hispanic blacks are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, they are significantly less likely to receive medication for treatment.

Researchers found the race/ethnicity discrepancies among diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric conditions across 11 private, not-for-profit U.S. healthcare delivery systems.

The organizations were part of the Mental Health Research Network, a consortium of research centers based in large not-for-profit health care systems that have a mission to improve the management of mental health conditions.

The study is published in the journal Psychiatric Services.

“It’s concerning that we saw a higher rate of diagnosis of schizophrenia and seemingly an undertreatment in terms of pharmacotherapy for that group,” said Dr. Ashli A. Owen-Smith, co-author of the study and assistant professor of health management and policy in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

“In general, pharmacotherapy is an important part of the treatment plan. That’s a finding that warrants some additional research.”

An estimated 25 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from some type of psychiatric condition at any time, with the most common conditions being depression and anxiety. Psychiatric conditions lead to greater disability than other chronic illnesses and cost the U.S. as much as $300 billion each year.

In this study, the participating healthcare systems had a combined 7.5 million patients age 18 or older, with about 1.2 million patients receiving a psychiatric diagnosis in 2011. Diagnoses included anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia spectrum disorder, and other psychoses.

The researchers used electronic medical record databases and insurance claims to determine rates of diagnoses, prescription of psychotropic medications and formal psychotherapy sessions received by white, Asian, black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander, Native American/Alaskan Native, and mixed-race patients.

“We saw that prevalence rates for depression and anxiety diagnoses were lower among racial and ethnic minorities compared to non-Hispanic whites,” said Owen-Smith, who worked at the Kaiser Permanente Georgia Center for Clinical and Outcomes Research when the study was conducted.

“Non-Hispanic whites were consistently higher in use of pharmacotherapy compared to other race-ethnicities. For psychotherapy, interestingly, the rates were similar or sometimes higher for racial or ethnic minorities.”

Additional results from the study include:

  • Native American/Alaskan Native patients had the highest rate of any diagnosis (20.6 percent);
  • Asian patients had the lowest rates of any diagnosis (7.5 percent);
  • Non-Hispanic white patients were significantly more likely (77.8 percent) than other racial-ethnic groups to receive medication;
  • Only 34 percent of patients with a psychiatric diagnosis received formal psychotherapy;
  • Racial-ethnic differences were most pronounced for depression and schizophrenia; compared with whites, non-Hispanic blacks were more likely to receive formal psychotherapy for their depression or schizophrenia.

“I think the other thing important to note is that the overall rate of psychotherapy treatment for people with serious mental illness was very low across all race-ethnicities,” Owen-Smith said.

“In general, across all the health systems, people with serious mental illness aren’t getting a lot of psychotherapy as a form of treatment, and maybe that’s a missed opportunity for our health systems to provide care to those patients.”

Researchers explain that a variety of factors, such as cultural preferences, could contribute to the findings. Previous studies suggest that certain groups prefer alternative treatments to traditional pharmacotherapy for health conditions, she said.

Source: Georgia State University
Man with mental health issues photo by shutterstock.

Race/Ethnicity Influence Diagnosis & Treatment of Mental Illness

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Race/Ethnicity Influence Diagnosis & Treatment of Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.