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The time is now: tackling racial and ethnic disparities in mental and behavioral health services in Massachusetts.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research.
  • 2Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research.
  • 3The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University.


Massachusetts is in the midst of a demographic shift that will leave the state with unprecedented ethnic, racial and cultural diversity. In light of this change, health care services in the Commonwealth need to respond to and serve an increasingly multicultural population. The time is now for bold initiatives to reduce behavioral health and health service disparities by building collaborations between policymakers, insurers/payers, provider organizations, training institutions, and community groups. In the same way collaboration among diverse stakeholders enabled the Commonwealth to lead the nation in achieving near universal access to health insurance, a new collaboration can pave the way for the elimination of behavioral health and health care disparities. This brief compiles current information on racial and ethnic disparities in mental health and substance use disorders and treatment disparities in Massachusetts. It concludes with state level policy recommendations. The Brief does not recommend policies already in motion, such as moving to universal insurance coverage, enforcement of parity laws, policies to expand coverage of drug treatment services or greater inclusion of consumers in the development and configuration of behavioral health services. Recommendations offered are based on best practices and evidence-based research. Most research, however, studies incremental changes. To transform rather than reform the system, we integrate consideration of experience and research from other policy areas. The ultimate goal is to generate an action plan that motivates policymakers to address persistent racial and ethnic disparities in the availability and quality of behavioral health services in the Commonwealth.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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