July 15, 1998 By Corey Stevens
GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- Black women are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with emotional disorders than their white counterparts, University of Florida researchers report, but what role ethnicity plays in this process is unclear.
University of Florida psychologist Shae Graham Kosch, Ph.D., the study's primary author, suggested a reason for the difference is that black women experience a higher level of social support than white women.
"Black women tend to use a network of people, including friends, family and churches, to help them cope. In the Gainesville community, that network is strong and it appears to be protecting black women against emotional disorders," said Kosch, professor in the department of community health and family medicine in UF's College of Medicine.
However, social support was not linked to marital relationship because only 19 percent of the black women in the study were currently married, compared to 45 percent of white women. Researchers at UF compared the medical records of 100 white patients, matched by age with 100 black patients in a family practice medical center, and published their results in a recent issue of the journal Family Medicine.
The study showed that physicians diagnosed either a primary or secondary emotional disorder in 44 percent of white women, compared with 24 percent of black women. The women's ages ranged from 25 to 65, with an average age of 43.
Initially, Kosch and co-author Mary Ann Burg, Ph.D., M.S.W., director of research in UF's department of community health and family medicine, concluded that the difference in the number of psychological diagnoses between black and white women could be due to communication patterns between patients and doctors. The authors thought the lower rate might reflect a situation in which black patients were reluctant to discuss emotional issues with their physician, or physicians asked fewer questions of black patients about psychological symptoms.
However, the results of a follow-up study presented at the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine meeting this April in Chicago confirmed that the proportion of white women who suffer from depression is higher than black women. A review of in-depth, structured interviews and symptom checklists filled out by 51 patients revealed that 45 percent of white women were depressed, compared with 35 percent of black women.
Kosch said it is important for the health-care sector to recognize emotional disorders because anxiety and depression constitute one of the top 10 medical disorders seen by primary-care physicians.
"Primary-care physicians manage 60 percent of patients with psychological symptoms," said Kosch.
In addition to being significantly more likely to diagnose an emotional disorder in white women, family physicians prescribed antidepressants for 22 percent of white women, but only 9 percent of black women. Results indicated that poverty significantly increased the likelihood of having an emotional disorder for white women, but was not a predictor for black women, Kosch added.
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