Heather Kugelmass, Princeton University doctoral candidate and study author, recently conducted a study called, “Sorry, I’m Not Accepting New Patients,” which was published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
The study, the Atlanta Black Star reports, “found that the therapists regularly discriminate against prospective patients who are Black or working-class, regardless of insurance standing.”
Kugelmass hired a number of actors to leave voicemail messages for 320 psychotherapists, randomly selected from Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield’s HMO plan.
Each of these therapists received two voice messages, one from a Black caller, the other from a white caller; or two working-class patients of the same gender, both Black and white.
Scripts were carefully created to give clues to socioeconomic status, using vernacular and heavily accented language to denote working-class, while differing names were used to indicate race.
All patients gave the same information, aside from their name: they preferred a weekday evening appointment and gave the same private health insurance provider.
Only 17% of people posing as middle-class Black callers received appointment offers, while 28% of people posing as white middle-class callers were contacted. In a grim twist, the rate of appointment offers for both Black and white working-class callers was just 8%.
This study has revealed a disappointing and dangerous truth for African-Americans seeking therapy in the United States.
Nearly 82% of American adults take at least one medication, and of those, one in five takes medication for a psychological disorder, according to TIME.
TIME continues: “Contrary to stereotypes about city folk on the coasts being more open about seeking mental health care, the highest rate of psychiatric medication use was in the so-called “diabetes belt” in the Southeastern U.S. This area, which as the name suggests has higher rates of diabetes, include many of the country’s poorest states: Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama — 23.3% of residents of these states take at least one psychiatric drug.”
In addition, African Americans are 20% more likely than white Americans to suffer from a serious mental health disorder. But with the kind of prejudice that goes on in the mental health field, they may be hard pressed to find proper care and medication.
“Access to health insurance may not be sufficient to ensure equal access to therapy,” Kugelmass concludes in her study.