Race Differences in the Receipt of Mental Health Services Among Young Adults

A summary of “Race Differences in the Receipt of Mental Health Services Among Young Adults,” from the February 2012 issue of Psychological Services

By Kristen Cole, MA

In the US, disparities exist for blacks and Latinos in receipt of mental health services, even though the rates of most disorders are not substantively different among racial/ethnic groups. However, little is known about unmet need in the overall adolescent age group, as most studies have used college students, who are proportionally more likely to be white, female and of higher socioeconomic status. This research used information from a more representative sample, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, to examine relationships between ethnicity and the receipt of mental health services among young adults, finding that the level of unmet need for mental health care was substantially higher for Latinos and backs than it was for whites.

Significant moderators and mediators that affected the pursuit of treatment were also identified. For example, the level of education completed and prior use of services had different associations across races. For whites, higher education was seen with greater receipt of services, whereas for blacks, higher education was inversely associated with service receipt. This relationship was seen in black youth, even when moderating for all other variables. Some factors though, were constant across ethnicities. For example, gender was highly correlated with depressive symptoms, a diagnosis of depression, and services received. Also, persons acknowledging the presence of current depressive symptoms and previous diagnoses were significantly more likely to receive services. Finally, those enrolled in college reported increased likelihood of service utilization when compared to those who were not attending, even when controlling for other variables.

The results from the study suggested that a diagnosis of depression was more important in the receipt of services in young adults, even more so than demographic characteristics. However, the results also indicated that compared to whites or Latinos, blacks were less likely to seek out services. Further, blacks appeared to seek services even less if they had history of receiving treatment for mental health concerns. With this information practitioners should take care to address the concerns of black clients in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. Future research should focus on the treatment encounter to help understand the negative outcomes that blacks report when receiving treatment.