Mental Health Care Disparities Persist For Black Children

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Disparities in the use of mental health services, including outpatient care and psychotropic drug prescriptions, persist for black and Latino children, reports a new study in Health Services Research.

“Children’s mental illness is very predictive of poor outcomes later in life—socially, educationally, income-wise and employment-wise,” said lead author Benjamin Lê Cook, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research at the Cambridge Health Alliance and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “There is a real need to understand why there are these big differences in mental health care for kids.”

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Cook and his colleagues looked at data from a nationally representative sample of over 30,000 youth ages 5 to 21 from the 2002-2003 and the 2006-2007 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys (MEPS). They analyzed the data for the use of outpatient mental health care, use of psychiatric drugs and overall mental health care.

“About 10 percent of white youth are using mental health care compared to about half that percentage—between 4 and 5 percent—of black and Latino youth using mental health care.” That 2-to-1, white-to-minority ratio is a giant disparity compared to other areas of health care,” Cook said.