Racial-Ethnic Differences in Psychiatric Diagnoses and Treatment Across 11 Health Care Systems in the Mental Health Research Network

Psychiatr Serv. 2016 Jul 1;67(7):749-57. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201500217. Epub 2016 Apr 15.


Objective: The objective of this study was to characterize racial-ethnic variation in diagnoses and treatment of mental disorders in large not-for-profit health care systems.

Methods: Participating systems were 11 private, not-for-profit health care organizations constituting the Mental Health Research Network, with a combined 7,523,956 patients age 18 or older who received care during 2011. Rates of diagnoses, prescription of psychotropic medications, and total formal psychotherapy sessions received were obtained from insurance claims and electronic medical record databases across all health care settings.

Results: Of the 7.5 million patients in the study, 1.2 million (15.6%) received a psychiatric diagnosis in 2011. This varied significantly by race-ethnicity, with Native American/Alaskan Native patients having the highest rates of any diagnosis (20.6%) and Asians having the lowest rates (7.5%). Among patients with a psychiatric diagnosis, 73% (N=850,585) received a psychotropic medication. Non-Hispanic white patients were significantly more likely (77.8%) than other racial-ethnic groups (odds ratio [OR] range .48-.81) to receive medication. In contrast, only 34% of patients with a psychiatric diagnosis (N=548,837) received formal psychotherapy. Racial-ethnic differences were most pronounced for depression and schizophrenia; compared with whites, non-Hispanic blacks were more likely to receive formal psychotherapy for their depression (OR=1.20) or for their schizophrenia (OR=2.64).

Conclusions: There were significant racial-ethnic differences in diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric conditions across 11 U.S. health care systems. Further study is needed to understand underlying causes of these observed differences and whether processes and outcomes of care are equitable across these diverse patient populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / ethnology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • United States / ethnology
  • Young Adult


  • Psychotropic Drugs