Race, ethnicity, and the use of services for mental disorders: results from the National Survey of American Life

Harold W Neighbors, Cleopatra Caldwell, David R Williams, Randolph Nesse, Robert Joseph Taylor, Kai McKeever Bullard, Myriam Torres, James S Jackson
Archives of General Psychiatry 2007, 64 (4): 485-94

CONTEXT: Little is known about differences in the unmet need for mental health service use between African Americans and Caribbean blacks.

OBJECTIVE: To extend the National Survey of Black Americans by examining 12-month mental health service use for African Americans and Caribbean blacks from the recently completed National Survey of American Life.

DESIGN AND SETTING: National household probability samples of noninstitutionalized African Americans and Caribbean blacks (blacks from Caribbean area countries now living in the United States) conducted between February 2001 and June 2003, using a slightly modified World Mental Health version of the World Health Organization's Composite International Diagnostic Interview.

PARTICIPANTS: A total of 3570 African Americans and 1621 Caribbean blacks 18 years and older (N = 5191).

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Proportion of respondents with 12-month DSM-IV disorders who sought help in the specialty mental health, general medical, human service, and complementary-alternative medicine treatment sectors. The percentage receiving minimally adequate treatment was also assessed.

RESULTS: Overall, 10.1% of respondents used some form of mental heath care services in the past year. Use of services was much higher among those who met criteria for a 12-month DSM-IV disorder (31.9%) than among those who did not (5.4%). Forty-nine percent of respondents with serious mental illness used services, whereas 39.3% had contact with mental health care specialists. The youngest and oldest age groups were least likely to obtain any services. Among African Americans, women were more likely than men to use general medical care and services from any sector. Respondents with the most years of education showed the highest use of services.

CONCLUSIONS: The underuse of mental health services among black Americans remains a serious concern. Educational interventions that focus on both consumers and mental health care professionals are needed.

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