Racial/Ethnic Differences in Perception of Need for Mental Health Treatment in a US National Sample

Published in: Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, [Epub May 2017]. doi:10.1007/s00127-017-1400-2

Posted on RAND.org on May 31, 2017

by Joshua Breslau, Matthew Cefalu, Eunice C. Wong, M. Audrey Burnam, Gerald P. Hunter, Karen Rocío Flórez, Rebecca L. Collins

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To resolve contradictory evidence regarding racial/ethnic differences in perceived need for mental health treatment in the USA using a large and diverse epidemiologic sample.


Samples from 6 years of a repeated cross-sectional survey of the US civilian non-institutionalized population were combined (N = 232,723). Perceived need was compared across three non-Hispanic groups (whites, blacks and Asian-Americans) and two Hispanic groups (English interviewees and Spanish interviewees). Logistic regression models were used to test for variation across groups in the relationship between severity of mental illness and perceived need for treatment.


Adjusting statistically for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and for severity of mental illness, perceived need was less common in all racial/ethnic minority groups compared to whites. The prevalence difference (relative to whites) was smallest among Hispanics interviewed in English, -5.8% (95% CI -6.5, -5.2%), and largest among Hispanics interviewed in Spanish, -11.2% (95% CI -12.4, -10.0%). Perceived need was significantly less common among all minority racial/ethnic groups at each level of severity. In particular, among those with serious mental illness, the largest prevalence differences (relative to whites) were among Asian-Americans, -23.3% (95% CI -34.9, -11.7%) and Hispanics interviewed in Spanish, 32.6% (95% CI -48.0, -17.2%).


This study resolves the contradiction in empirical evidence regarding the existence of racial/ethnic differences in perception of need for mental health treatment; differences exist across the range of severity of mental illness and among those with no mental illness. These differences should be taken into account in an effort to reduce mental health-care disparities.

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