Depressed African Americans Less Likely To Be Prescribed Medication

April 6, 2012  |  

Typically we’re concerned when doctors are too quick to put black people on medication—like children with ADHD—but in this instance, African Americans may not be getting the medications they need.

A new study from the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health has found that doctors prescribe antidepressants to African American and Hispanic patients with major depressive disorders a lot less than Caucasian ones—1.5 times less. Physicians who owned their own practice were also 25 percent less likely to prescribe antidepressants than those who were not owners, and doctors in metropolitan areas were 27 percent less likely to suggest medication.

Rajesh Balkrishnan, associate professor in U-M SPH and principal investigator, told The Huffington Post:

“This study confirmed previous findings that sociological factors, such as race and ethnicity, and patient health insurance status, influence physician prescribing behaviors.”

“This is true in particular for major depressive disorder treatment.”

Since this study was formed using data from administrative databases, rather than personal accounts from patients, it’s impossible to say physician bias is the only factor at play. The stigma surrounding mental disease in the African American community may also have something to do with the lower prescription rate, as patients who are diagnosed with depression may be in denial and resistant to take medication. The location of these patients likely also effects the prescription rate, said Steve Morgan, the Associate Director at the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who has studied ethnic differences in the use of prescription drugs.

“We do know that geography matters, that there are regional variations in drug use, across provinces and states, or even within those areas,” he says. “The different forms of disparity could be related to cultural competency [the ability to interact with people from different cultures], but it could also be related to socioeconomic disparities.”

Do you think these study results are cause for concern?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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