Racial-ethnic disparities in outpatient mental health visits to U.S. physicians, 1993-2008

Psychiatr Serv. 2014 Jan 1;65(1):59-67. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201200528.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine racial-ethnic differences in use of mental health treatment for a comprehensive range of specific disorders over time.

Methods: Data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey were used to examine adult outpatient mental health visits to U.S. physicians from 1993 to 2008 (N=754,497). Annual visit prevalence for three racial-ethnic groups was estimated as the number of visits divided by the group's U.S. population size. Visit prevalence ratios (VPRs) were calculated as the minority group's prevalence divided by the non-Hispanic white prevalence. Analyses were stratified by diagnosis, physician type, patient characteristics, and year.

Results: VPRs for any disorder were .60 (95% confidence interval [CI]=.52-.68) for non-Hispanic blacks and .58 (CI=.50-.67) for Hispanics. Non-Hispanic blacks were treated markedly less frequently than whites for obsessive-compulsive, generalized anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity, personality, panic, and nicotine use disorders but more frequently for psychotic disorders. Hispanics were treated far less frequently than whites for bipolar I, impulse control, autism spectrum, personality, obsessive-compulsive, and nicotine use disorders but more frequently for drug use disorders. Racial-ethnic differences in visits to psychiatrists were generally greater than for visits to nonpsychiatrists. Differences declined with increasing patient age and appear to have widened over time.

Conclusions: Racial-ethnic differences in receipt of outpatient mental health treatment from U.S. physicians varied substantially by disorder, provider type, and patient age. Most differences were large and did not show improvement over time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Surveys / trends
  • Healthcare Disparities / ethnology
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Healthcare Disparities / trends
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology
  • Middle Aged
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data*
  • Office Visits / trends
  • Outpatients / statistics & numerical data*
  • Population Groups / ethnology
  • Population Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States / ethnology
  • Young Adult