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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

BU Finds Significant Disparities in College Student Mental Health Treatment Across Race/Ethnicity

The first nationally representative study since the 1990s to examine mental health among college students of color, led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher, shows significant disparities in treatment across race/ethnicity.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that, among college students with clinically significant mental health problems, half of white students received treatment in the past year, compared to one-quarter of African American and Asian students, and one-third of Latinx students.

“There is enormous unmet need for mental health services in college student populations writ large, and students of color represent a disparities population based on even greater unmet mental health needs relative to white students,” says lead author Dr. Sarah Lipson, assistant professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH.

The researchers used data from 43,375 undergraduate and graduate students at 60 institutions that participated in the survey-based Healthy Minds Study from 2012 to 2015. The participants included 13,412 students of color, who self-identified as African American, Latinx, Asian/Asian American, Arab/Arab American, or multiracial. Because the largest proportion of international students in the sample were Asian, the researchers also looked separately at international Asian students and Asian American students.

Overall, 42 percent of the students met criteria for a mental health problem, with prevalence ranging from 40 percent among African American students to 53 percent for Arab/Arab American students. Among African American students with a mental health problem, only 21 percent had received a diagnosis, compared with 48 percent of their white peers. White students also had the highest prevalence of treatment, at 46 percent, while Asian/Asian American students had the lowest prevalence of treatment at 23 percent, and international Asian students had an even lower prevalence, at 19 percent.

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