Perceived Discrimination in Health Care and Mental Health/Substance Abuse Treatment Among Blacks, Latinos, and Whites

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Experiences of discrimination in health care settings may contribute to disparities in mental health outcomes for blacks and Latinos. We investigate whether perceived discrimination in mental health/substance abuse visits contributes to participants’ ratings of treatment helpfulness and stopped treatment.

Research Methods:

We used data from 3 waves of the California Quality of Life Survey, a statewide population-based telephone survey assessing mental health/substance disorders and their treatment. In a sample of 1099 adults (age 18–72) who indicated prior year mental health/substance abuse visits, we examined: experiences of discrimination that occurred during health care and mental health/substance abuse visits, ratings of treatment helpfulness, and reports of stopping treatment early.


Fifteen percent of California adults reported discrimination during a health care visit and 4% specifically during mental health/substance abuse visits. Latinos, the uninsured, and those with past year mental disorders were twice as likely as others to report health care discrimination [adjusted odds ratio (AORs)=2.08, 2.77, and 2.51]. Uninsured patients were 7 times more likely to report discrimination in mental health/substance abuse visits (AOR=7.27, P<0.01). The most commonly reported reasons for health care discrimination were race/ethnicity for blacks (52%) and Latinos (31%), and insurance status for whites (40%). Experiences of discrimination in mental health/substance abuse visits were associated with less helpful treatment ratings for Latinos (AOR=0.09, P<0.05) and whites (AOR=0.25, P<0.01), and early treatment termination for blacks (AOR=13.38, P<0.05).


Experiences of discrimination are associated with negative mental health/substance abuse treatment experiences and stopped treatment, and could be a factor in mental health outcomes.

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