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WGBH interviews Xiaoduo Fan about racial disparities in mental health care

New UMass Medical School study finds Asian Americans half as likely as whites to be diagnosed and treated

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

April 27, 2018
  Xiaoduo Fan, MD, MPH

Xiaoduo Fan, MD, MPH

UMass Medical School psychiatrist Xiaoduo Fan, MD, MPH, lead author of a new study finding racial disparities in mental health care between Asian American and white patients, talked to WGBH News about why mental health disorders go unrecognized, and why mental health services are underused in the Asian American community.

Dr. Fan, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Psychotic Disorders Clinic at UMass Memorial Medical Center, cites two major reasons for the disparities.

“From the patient side, it is related to the enormous sense of stigma and shame related to mental illness in Asian cultures,” said Fan. “But also in many hospitals there is a lack of cultural competency.”

Published in Asian Psychiatry, the study analyzed data from more than 360,000 patients. Only 8.6 percent of Asian Americans compared to 18.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites had a mental health disorder diagnosed. Whites were also far more likely to receive treatment with medication, at 15 percent versus 8.5 percent of Asian Americans. Fan and colleagues identified language, religion, gender and age as factors predicting whether Asian Americans are diagnosed and treated.  

“In Asian cultures in general, sharing feelings or psychological experience in general is not encouraged,” he said. “That’s why people who grow up in Asian cultures may not develop that vocabulary to describe their emotional experiences or feelings.”

He and co-authors conclude that there remains a need for health care providers to improve screening services and to gain a better understanding of the cultural barriers that hinder mental health care among American Asian patients.

“I have seen so many Asian Americans suffer from mental illness, but they remain underground in this dark tunnel,” Fan said. “There are resources available.”

View the full Greater Boston segment, hear the interview on WGBH News Radio and read more at WGBH News.

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