Family History Of Undertreatment May Discourage Blacks From Seeking Mental Health Care

mother and daughterUnderuse of effective treatments for mental health disorders is more pronounced among African Americans than non-Hispanic whites.  A new study attempting to explain this health disparity in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior finds that blacks with a family history of untreated mental health disorders are less likely to seek treatment, even when they rate their own mental health as poor.

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Although African Americans have a lower or similar prevalence of mental health disorders as Whites, they have relatively high rates of disorders that carry a substantial need for treatment including severe, disabling, persistent, and chronic psychiatric disorders and receive mental health services less often than Whites.

“The reasons for this [treatment] disparity aren’t clear,” says study author Alice P. Villatoro, Ph.D., a former graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles “Many studies have examined structural factors that could be at play, including insurance and financial status, the supply of mental health services, or the availability of culturally competent care.” However, she explains, fewer studies have examined the role of families in steering individuals toward or away from care.“ The process of seeking help for mental health problems isn’t just done by an individual,” says Villatoro. “It’s a very social process, and families can be an important resource for individuals trying to access help.”