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Psychol Med. 2006 Jan;36(1):57-68. Epub 2005 Oct 5.

Specifying race-ethnic differences in risk for psychiatric disorder in a USA national sample.

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  • 1Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Epidemiological studies have found lower than expected prevalence of psychiatric disorders among disadvantaged race-ethnic minority groups in the USA. Recent research shows that this is due entirely to reduced lifetime risk of disorders, as opposed to persistence. Specification of race-ethnic differences with respect to clinical and social characteristics can help identify the protective factors that lead to lower lifetime risk among disadvantaged minority groups.


Data on 5424 Hispanics, non-Hispanic Blacks, and non-Hispanic Whites came from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, a nationally representative survey conducted with the World Mental Health version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Race-ethnic differences in risk of disorders were compared across specific diagnoses, ages of onset, cohorts and levels of education.


Both minority groups had lower risk for common internalizing disorders: depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia. In addition, Hispanics had lower risk for dysthymia, oppositional-defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; non-Hispanic Blacks had lower risk for panic disorder, substance use disorders and early-onset impulse control disorders. Lower risk among Hispanics, relative to non-Hispanic Whites, was found only among the younger cohort (age<or=43 years). Lower risk among minorities was more pronounced at lower levels of education.


The pattern of race-ethnic differences in risk for psychiatric disorders suggests the presence of protective factors that originate in childhood and have generalized effects on internalizing disorders. For Hispanics, but not for non-Hispanic Blacks, the influence of these protective factors has emerged only recently.

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