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Psychiatr Serv. 2010 Feb;61(2):173-9. doi: 10.1176/ps.2010.61.2.173.

Psychiatrists' attitudes toward and awareness about racial disparities in mental health care.

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Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., USA.



Psychiatrists may perpetuate racial-ethnic disparities in health care through racially biased, albeit unconscious, behaviors. Changing these behaviors requires that physicians accept that racial-ethnic disparities exist and accept their own contributions to disparities. The purposes of this study were to assess psychiatrists' awareness of racial disparities in mental health care, to evaluate the extent to which psychiatrists believe they contribute to disparities, and to determine psychiatrists' interest in participating in disparities-reduction programs.


A random sample of psychiatrists, identified through the American Psychiatric Association's member directory, was invited to complete the online survey. The survey was also distributed to psychiatrists at a national professional conference.


Of the 374 respondents, most said they were not familiar or only a little familiar with the literature on racial disparities. Respondents tended to believe that race has a moderate influence on quality of psychiatric care but that race is more influential in others' practices than in their own practices. One-fourth had participated in any type of disparities-reduction program within the past year, and approximately one-half were interested in participating in such a program.


Psychiatrists may not recognize the pervasiveness of racial inequality in psychiatric care, and they may attribute racially biased thinking to others but not to themselves. Interventions to eliminate racial-ethnic disparities should focus on revealing and modifying unconscious biases. Lack of physician interest may be one barrier to such interventions.

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