Study finds racial disparities in diagnosis and treatment of major depression

Published April 28, 2023

This is the 36th study of the Blue Cross Blue Shield, The Health of America Report® series, a collaboration between Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and Blue Health Intelligence (BHI), which uses a market-leading claims database to uncover key trends and insights in health care affordability and access to care.

About This Study

The mental health report investigates disparities in the prevalence of diagnosis and treatment of major depressive disorder, or major depression3, between majority White, Black and Hispanic communities. Our analysis spans 2016 to 2020 and is based on the medical claims of 3.1 million Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) commercially insured individuals with major depression between the ages of 12 and 64. For additional insights, we surveyed more than 2,700 adults, aged 18 to 75, about their attitudes and perspectives around mental health and how they access care.

This is the second in a series of reports supporting the Blue Cross and Blue Shield national strategy to address racial disparities in health. The first report in our series examined maternal health.

Key Findings:

  1. Major depression goes undiagnosed and untreated at disproportionally greater rates in majority Black and Hispanic communities, leading to unnecessary suffering.
  2. The presence of more mental and behavioral health providers in Black and Hispanic communities is associated with higher diagnosis rates for major depression. This suggests that increased access to these providers could mitigate the underdiagnosis of major depression in these communities.
  3. Rates of treatment for major depression are lowest in Hispanic communities and lower in Black communities than in White communities. When treated for major depression, Black and Hispanic communities have a lower frequency of both prescription drug treatment and counseling.
  4. Survey findings show that Black and Hispanic respondents are more likely to seek information on mental health outside of the health care system, to prefer providers with similar life experiences and perceive greater stigma about mental illness in their communities.

Read the full report here

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association is an association of independently owned and operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.