Racial Differences in Antidepressant Treatment Preceding Suicide in a Medicaid Population

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ObjectiveAfrican Americans have less use of antidepressants than whites, suggesting racial differences in the diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders. This study assessed whether this racial disparity is present among patients with a very high risk of severe mood disorders—that is, those with completed suicides.MethodsCompleted suicides that occurred between 1986 and 2004 were identified by examining records of Tennessee Medicaid/TennCare enrollees aged 18 to 84 years who had no serious medical illness or chronic psychosis. Use of antidepressants in the 365 days before the suicide was ascertained from filled prescriptions. Unconditional logistic regression was used to adjust for racial differences in demographic characteristics and somatic comorbidity.ResultsThe study included 127 African Americans and 1,379 whites who completed suicide. African Americans had significantly reduced odds of receiving treatments for mood disorders in the year preceding the suicide: 29% of African Americans had filled an antidepressant prescription, compared with 51% of whites (adjusted odds ratio=.43, 95% confidence interval=.26–.71, p<.001). In contrast, there was no significant difference between the two racial groups in the proportions filling prescriptions for antipsychotic medications (13% of African Americans and 11% of whites). These findings persisted after the analysis controlled for other comorbidities linked with suicide, including alcohol or substance abuse, seizure disorders, borderline personality disorder, and serious neurological conditions.ConclusionsAlthough there are several other potential explanations, the study findings provide indirect evidence that there is underdiagnosis or undertreatment of African Americans with serious mood disorders. Further research on this question in African-American populations is essential.

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