Differences in the perception of need for mental health treatment

June 27, 2017 | Press Releases & Announcements

Dr. Karen Flórez

Dr. Karen Florez, professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, and colleagues examined racial/ethnic differences in perception of the need for mental health treatment in a U.S. national sample. The findings were published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

The goal of this study was to resolve contradictory evidence regarding racial/ethnic differences in perceived need for mental health treatment in the U.S., using a large and diverse epidemiologic sample.

The research team used combined samples from six years of a repeated cross-sectional survey of the U.S. civilian non-institutionalized population (N = 232,723). They compared perceived need across three non-Hispanic groups (whites, blacks and Asian-Americans) and two Hispanic groups (English interviewees and Spanish interviewees). Logistic regression models were used to test for variation across groups in the relationship between severity of mental illness and perceived need for treatment.

Adjusting statistically for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and for severity of mental illness, perceived need was less common in all racial/ethnic minority groups compared to whites. The prevalence difference (relative to whites) was smallest among Hispanics interviewed in English and largest among Hispanics interviewed in Spanish. Perceived need was significantly less common among all minority racial/ethnic groups at each level of severity. In particular, among those with serious mental illness, the largest prevalence differences (relative to whites) were among Asian-Americans, and Hispanics interviewed in Spanish.

The authors concluded that this study resolved the contradiction in empirical evidence regarding the existence of racial/ethnic differences in perception of need for mental health treatment. The research team found that differences exist across the range of severity of mental illness and among those with no mental illness. These differences should be taken into account in an effort to reduce mental health-care disparities.


Breslau, J., Cefalu, M., Wong, E. et al. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2017). doi:10.1007/s00127-017-1400-2