Mental health care visits were significantly lower among black and Hispanic children and young adults, compared with their white peers, according to recent findings.
“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,” Lyndonna Marrast, MD, MPH, of Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine, Hempstead, New York, said in a press release.
To assess racial and ethnic disparities in pediatric and young adult mental health and substance abuse care, researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the 2006 to 2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys for children aged 18 years and younger and young adults aged 18 to 34 years.
Unadjusted analysis indicated minority children made about half as many mental health visits as white children.
Compared with white children, black and Hispanic children made 37% and 49% fewer visits to psychiatrists, respectively, and 47% and 58% fewer visits to any mental health professional.
Conversely, inpatient and ED utilization rates were similar among black and white children and lower among Hispanic children.
Racial and ethnic disparities were slightly larger among young adults.
Black and Hispanic young adults made 47% and 55% fewer visits to psychiatrists, compared with whites. Disparities in psychologist and social worker visits were even larger, according to researchers.
Overall rates of mental health professional visits were 68% lower among black young adults and 62% lower among Hispanic young adults, compared with whites.
Substance abuse counseling rates were 85% lower among black young adults, compared with whites.
Disparities in mental health care expenditures among children and young adults were similar to visit rate patterns, suggesting that visit numbers influenced racial and ethnic differences rather than prices.
Racial and ethnic disparities among visit rates remained in multivariate models controlling for demographics, mental health impairment, insurance, and poverty status.
“Many barriers obstruct the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health problems of children and young adults — especially minorities. Health professionals have a critical role in recognizing and overcoming these barriers. Doing so may improve population health and help reduce mass incarceration and its dire consequences for patients, families, and communities,” the researchers concluded. – by Amanda Oldt
The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.