CHA Researchers Discuss Racial and Ethnic Disparities at Mass. Health Policy Forum


Margarita Alegr
ía, PhD, director, and Benjamin Cook, PhD, MPH, senior scientist, both of CHA's Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research and Harvard Medical School, presented their findings from a new report titled “The Time is Now: Tackling Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mental and Behavioral Health Services in Massachusetts” at a Massachusetts Health Policy Forum summit on December 11. They explored the underlying factors that contribute to disparities in behavioral health treatment and shared recommendations to expand access to care with more than 450 government and business leaders, policy makers, community advocates and behavioral health providers at the event, which was sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation.

The report found that Latinos in Massachusetts are much less likely to access behavioral health care than whites. Among Latino adults with mental illness in Massachusetts, only 29.2 percent received treatment compared to 51.5 percent of whites. The authors also found that among Massachusetts high school students, Hispanic and Native American youth were significantly more likely than whites to report feelings of sadness and hopelessness, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. In contrast, higher rates of drug and alcohol use were reported among white youth and adults.

Alegría, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School,
speculated that large disparities for Latinos may reflect difficulty in accessing care for undocumented immigrants and the challenge of finding Spanish-speaking behavioral health providers. Solutions recommended in the report include increasing Medicaid payments for behavioral health services, expanding provision of services regardless of documentation status or ability to pay and focusing resources on community-based research and prevention programs.

Stephen Loder, a research assistant at the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, and Michael Doonan, PhD, an assistant professor at the Heller Graduate School at Brandeis University, co-authored the report.