Race Matters in Mental Healthcare

By Damien Priester

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Black woman hugging her knees

It’s a well-documented medical reality that some patients get worse care simply because of who they are.

Women who go to the ER with acute abdominal pain are less likely to receive a painkiller; those who do wait longer for it than men who show up with similar symptoms. Obese people have shorter visits with their doctors and get less health education than their thinner counterparts.

But does the quality of treatment also vary depending on the race of the doctor? Specifically, do African Americans who have mental health problems get more effective care from clinicians of their own race?

A growing number of researchers argue the answer is yes.

African Americans make up only four percent of the nation’s physicians, less than a third of their share of the US population. The lack of diversity is even starker among psychologists, just two percent of whom are African American.

At the same time, studies have shown clinicians are more likely to underdiagnose psychiatric conditions in African American patients than in white patients. They tend to miss more symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression in African American adults and more cases of ADHD in African American children.

Dr. Norissa Williams, a clinical assistant professor for Counseling@NYU, which offers an online master’s in mental health counseling from NYU Steinhardt, believes mental health is studded with “cultural pain points” that can lead to missed or mistaken diagnoses.

Read the entire article in the May/June 2018 issue of ONYX Magazine. Get your single copy and/or subscription today. 

This article originally ran in BlackDoctor.org.