Study - Minorities Slighted when it Comes to Depression Treatment

According to the results of a large study, published n the November issue of Psychiatric Services, minorities with depression have limited access to treatment. Those who seek treatment receive inadequate care. The findings reveal that even when variables such as poverty, insurance coverage, and education were taken into account, ethnicity and race still impacted treatment. The authors say, "The findings paint a stark, recent picture of care for depression among racial- and ethnic-minority populations in the United States and clearly point to areas in need of further sustained attention."

Looking at a period of twelve months, Harvard Medical School investigators discovered that 63.7% of Latinos, 68.7% of Asians, and 58.8% of African Americans did not access any mental health treatment, compared with 40.2% of non-Latino whites. Patients who sought treatment included 12% of African Americans, 13% of Asians, and 22% of Latinos compared with 33% of whites, but their needs were not met. According to the report, "Latinos, Asians, and African Americans with depression were 9 to 23 percentage points less likely to access mental health treatment and receive adequate depression treatment than non-Latino whites with similar observed characteristics” – a situation they view as “a significant mismatch between need and treatment in the United States”.

Data for the study was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys (CPES), and included 8762 individuals. Definition of adequate treatment included antidepressant medication use for thirty days or more in conjunction with four specialty or general health visits, or eight counseling visits without medication in the past year. Interestingly, 3.2% of non-Latino whites, who didn’t meet diagnostic criteria for past year depression, received four or more healthcare visits and an average of thirty days treatment with antidepressant medication, compared with 0.7% of Latinos, 1.2% of Asians, and 1.3% of African Americans.

The authors say we need to make “efforts to improve quality of and access to treatment”, recommending the development of policies and community resources. “Simply relying on current systems, without considering the unique barriers to high-quality care that apply for underserved ethnic- and racial-minority populations, is unlikely to affect the pattern of disparity we observed."

Recognizing symptoms of depression can sometimes be difficult – insomnia, fatigue, physical pain, inability to focus, irritability, and lack of pleasure are all signs that you might be depressed. Symptoms vary among individuals. It’s possible to have many symptoms, or just a few. Feelings of depression affect quality of life for those who suffer, as well as family members and friends. Take the Depression Screening Test, to see if an evaluation from a professional might help you.

Source: Psychiatr Serv. 2008; 59:1264-1272.