How Racial and Socioeconomic Factors Impact Mental Health Care

A groundbreaking study on children and mental health on who gets treatment and who doesn’t, why and what impact it has on a child’s development and adulthood. It’s a Rutgers-Camden study to be published in May in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved. The study’s author, Assistant Professor Wenhua Lu, joins NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill to talk about her findings.

Hill: You conclude mental health treatment and counseling services are disproportionately received according to racial and socioeconomic factors. How did you reach that conclusion?

Lu: Yes. For that study I looked at the national survey of children’s studies. It’s national data and we can actually take surveys from parents across the United States. Based on children’s self reports, there are like 15 percent of children who suffer from mental health problems but they didn’t receive appropriate health care. There are enormous disparities with respect to race and socioeconomic status. For example, compared with white Hispanic and black children are less likely to receive the mental health care that they need. And also compared with children who are either publicly insured or privately insured, those kids who don’t have the insurance are less likely to receive the mental health care that they need.

Hill: Why is that? What is there the disparity?

Lu: This is a great question. There are a lost of reasons or risk factors that may lead to these disparities. For example, at the child level, so let’s say like the whole child and adolescent population in general, at the children’s level there’s children and adolescents who have mental health problems. They may have self-induced stigma, or they may have a mistrust to the mental health professionals. And at the parent level, they may also have a stigma and they may also not have enough community support. At the community level, there’s children and adolescents’ families, especially those living in socioeconomic disadvantaged communities, they may have a lack of access to those appropriate health services. At the policy level, for example for children who are publicly insured, like those families who are served by receiving Medicaid, there are opportunities for serving them to receive such health care, but they are not aware of this. So others can contribute to children’s mental health service needs, and also with respect to racial ethnic minority children specifically. Among these groups they may also have cultural mistrust for health care professions, especially in the U.S.

Hill: What’s the impact then of these kids who are not getting the treatment that they need to get and they deserve to get, what’s the impact of them going to school and also into adulthood?

Lu: Mental health problems in children and adolescents can have lifelong consequences. For some children, mental health problems can lead to academic failure, can lead to risky sexual behaviors, can lead to substance use. In some extreme cases untreated mental health problems, for example depression, coupled like some social factors, for example social extremes, can lead to suicide which is the second leading cause of death for children and youth in the United States, especially for those aged 10 to 14. So yeah, there are a lot of natural consequences among children and adolescents. Also, mental health problems in children and adolescents can roll into adulthood and that may also lead to a huge financial cost.

Hill: Professor Wenhua Lu, assistant professor at Rutgers University-Camden, author of a groundbreaking study on mental health and treatment for adolescents and children. We’re looking forward to your study coming out in May. Thank you.