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Minority Health and Mental Health Disparities Program

The 2015 NIMH Strategic Plan for Research designates mental health disparities as a cross-cutting research theme. The 2010 United States Census data demonstrated increasing diversification of the U.S. population, with notable growth in racial and ethnic minority groups. These shifts occur alongside persistent disparities in mental health status and mental health care for individuals living in poverty and in rural areas. The National Healthcare Disparities Report 2012 reported that “health care quality and access are suboptimal, especially for minority and low-income groups [and while] overall quality is improving, access is getting worse, and disparities are not changing.” Similarly, disparities in mental health care across race and ethnicity, geographic regions, and socioeconomic domains continue. Compared with the majority population, members of racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are less likely to have access to mental health services,1 less likely to use community mental health services, more likely to use inpatient hospitalization and emergency rooms,2 and more likely to receive lower quality care.3 A growing evidence base points to opportunities for bringing to scale successful interventions that increase quality and access to mental health care for disparities populations. Questions remain regarding individual-, community-, provider-, and health system-related mechanisms underlying disparities in mental health status and psychiatric service use.

The primary functions of the NIMH Minority Health and Mental Health Disparities (MHMHD) Program, within the Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health (ORDGHMH), are to:

  • Oversee and coordinate NIMH efforts related to MHMHD research;
  • Lead the Institute-wide Mental Health Equity Workgroup;
  • Work closely with other NIH Institutes and Centers and other HHS agencies to stimulate MHMHD research;
  • Educate partners and scientists about areas of MHMHD research of relevance to their respective mission and/or portfolio;
  • Establish and maintain research partnerships across federal agencies to increase capacity and public health impact of scientific research to reduce mental health disparities; and,
  • Identify unique opportunities and gaps in mental health research activities.

High-priority research areas for the understanding and reduction of mental health disparities are listed in NOT-MH-14-033. The goals of the Minority Health and Mental Health Disparities Program are to:

  • Foster research across the NIMH Strategic Objectives through the recruitment and study of diverse racial and ethnic groups
  • Increase the understanding of mechanisms underlying disparities and differences in mental health status
  • Scale up evidence-based interventions to reduce disparities
  • Reduce disparities in access to, quality of, and outcomes of care

MHMHD research at NIMH is distributed across the NIMH Divisions and Offices according to their focus in the scientific areas of services and interventions research, translational research, neuroscience and behavioral research, HIV/AIDS research, and on populations of high need.

For More Information

Program Chief

Andrea Horvath Marques, MD, PhD, MPH
Mental Health Disparities Research Program
Office for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health
6001 Executive Boulevard, Bethesda, MD 20892-9659


1 Wang, P. B., P.; Olfson, M.; Pincus, H. A.; Wells, K. B.; Kessler, R. C. (2005). Failure and delay in initial treatment contact after first onset of mental disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 603-613.

2Samnaliev, M. & McGovern, M. P. & Clark, R. E.(2009). Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Mental Health Treatment in Six Medicaid Programs. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 20(1), 165-176. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from Project MUSE database.

3 Alegría, M., Chatterji, P., Wells, K., Cao, Z., Chen, C., Takeuchi, D., et al. (2008). Disparity in depression treatment among racial and ethnic minority populations in the United States. Psychiatric Services, 59(11), 1264-1272.