Ethnic and Gender Disparities in Needed Adolescent Mental Health Care

Among students at risk for depression, Black students were less likely than White and Hispanic students to have received treatment.

Low-income and lack of insurance are popular explanations for inadequate treatment of mental illness among Black and Hispanic adolescents; however, minorities might attach a social stigma to mental illness that further discourages children from seeking treatment.

Because they provide equal access to all students, school-based health centers are ideal for investigating treatment disparities. This study examined the use of mental health services at a public high school in southeast Texas; the research took place during 2008. The school’s clinic was sensitive to cultural differences among its student-patients; in addition, the clinic used a portfolio of referral services and provided medications to uninsured students; these practices further limited the possibility that minority students would have forgone treatment only because of socioeconomic factors.

Key Findings:

  • Black students were as likely as White students to have reported depressive symptoms to an adult.
  • White students were more likely to have received a diagnosis of depression.

The findings of this study suggest that socioeconomic factors do not fully explain ethnic disparities in treatment for depression among adolescents.