Family History of Undertreatment May Discourage Blacks from Seeking Mental Health Care

Release Date: August 7, 2014 | By Christen Brownlee, HBNS Contributing Writer
Research Source: Journal of Health and Social Behavior

KEY POINTS

  • Underuse of mental health services is more pronounced among African Americans than non-Hispanic Whites.
  • African Americans with a family history of untreated mental disorders are less likely to seek treatment than those with no family history or a history of treated disorders.
  • African Americans with more negative family interactions were more likely to use mental health services.
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Underuse of effective treatments for mental health disorders is more pronounced among African Americans than non-Hispanic whites.  A new study attempting to explain this health disparity in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior finds that blacks with a family history of untreated mental health disorders are less likely to seek treatment, even when they rate their own mental health as poor.

Although African Americans have a lower or similar prevalence of mental health disorders as Whites, they have relatively high rates of disorders that carry a substantial need for treatment including severe, disabling, persistent, and chronic psychiatric disorders and receive mental health services less often than Whites.

“The reasons for this [treatment] disparity aren’t clear,” says study author Alice P. Villatoro, Ph.D., a former graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles “Many studies have examined structural factors that could be at play, including insurance and financial status, the supply of mental health services, or the availability of culturally competent care.” However, she explains, fewer studies have examined the role of families in steering individuals toward or away from care.“ The process of seeking help for mental health problems isn’t just done by an individual,” says Villatoro. “It’s a very social process, and families can be an important resource for individuals trying to access help.”

Villatoro and her colleague Carol S. Aneshensel, Ph.D., professor and vice chair in UCLA’s Department of Community Health Services, examined data from more than 3,000 randomly selected African Americans participating in the 2003 National Survey of American Life. Participants answered questions about their own self-rated mental health, use of mental health services, family mental health history, family interactions, and general socioeconomic and demographic factors.

Villatoro and Aneshensel found that less than 10 percent of those surveyed accessed any mental health service over the past year. Those individuals who said that their family members were less supportive, more demanding, and more critical were more likely to have accessed mental health care than those who had more positive family interactions. Similarly, those who rated their own mental health as poor, had a diagnosed mental health disorder, or had symptoms indicative of a mental health disorder were more likely to have seen some sort of professional for mental health care.

However, those with a family history of untreated mental disorders were less likely than those with no family history or a history of treatment to have sought help, even among those with poor self-rated mental health or symptoms of a disorder. Those families might attach a stigma to mental health services, Villatoro says, discouraging individuals from seeking care even when they clearly need it.

The findings suggest that family can play an important role not just in encouraging individuals to seek out help but also discouraging people who need help from getting it, says Michael Lindsey, Ph.D., an associate professor of social work at New York University.

“Family is important because they’re the first point of contact,” Lindsey says. “They’re often the first people who recognize that there’s a problem and can help problem solve about what the next steps will be, whether that’s to push or pull someone away from treatment.”

Lindsey notes that future work should focus on what individual factors within these family interactions influence individuals to enter treatment as well as how families might be incorporated into mental health services to make treatment as successful as possible.

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or hbns-editor@cfah.org

The Journal of Health and Social Behavior is the quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association. Contact Sujata Sinha, Media Relations Officer at (202) 247-9871or ssinha@asanet.org

Tags for this article:
African-American Health   Mental Health   Depression/Anxiety   Health Care Access   Relationships/Social Support   Find Good Health Care   Communicate with your Doctors   Participate in your Treatment   Minority Health and Health Disparities  



Comments on this article
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Elizabeth Tate says
September 10, 2014 at 5:51 PM

What a great article! that holds so true. I find that another barrier to addressing mental health is amongst A.A/Latinos is the stigma that mental illness, such as depression, is an affliction that plaques only "white women". From a feminist perspective there is a "myth" that the woman of color must endure and always maintain in control and be strong
Elizabeth :)



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