, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 123-130

Frequency and Scope of Mental Health Service Delivery to African Americans in Primary Care

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This study examines whether African Americans with mental health complaints visit primary care physicians more than psychiatrists, and whether they demonstrate this preference more than do Whites. It addresses also whether when presenting with mental health concerns, African Americans and Whites receive a comparable range of interventions, including psychotropic medications. National estimates using the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys conducted in 1995 and 1996 confirmed the first hypothesis: African American did make more mental health-related office visits to primary care physicians than did psychiatrists and they did so more than Whites. Mental health interventions on behalf of African Americans and Whites proved to be similar, except that African Americans were less likely to be provided a psychotropic medication. Because African Americans are especially likely to receive outpatient mental health services from primary care physicians, the lower quality of mental health care occurring in primary care disproportionately affects African Americans. Fewer African American visits resulted in prescribing psychotropic medications, and this corroborated findings by other researchers. More research is needed to understand this disparity.