Treatment of culturally diverse children and adolescents with depression

Sunita M. Stewart, Alex Simmons, Ehsan Habibpour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


This article is written for the practitioners treating depression in ethnic minority youth. It will review the context in which services are delivered to these youth: Researchers have recognized persistent ethnic differences in terms of utilization of services and unmet need. Furthermore, when ethnic minority youth do receive pediatric mental health care, the services that they receive may differ from those given to White patients. The reasons for these discrepancies have been examined in numerous studies, and have included contextual variables (economics, availability, and accessibility of services), patient variables (differences in prevalence or manifestation of the disorder, cultural beliefs and attitudes, preferential use of alternative or informal services, health literacy, and adherence), and provider variables (referral bias and patient-provider communication). Information about the differences between White and minority youth in the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of the antidepressant response is still limited. There are significant challenges for developing evidence-based guidelines that inform practice with these youth, hinging on both the underrepresentation of ethnic minority groups in clinical trials, and the great variability in biological and cultural characteristics of individuals in ethnic minority categories. Awareness on the part of the practitioner of the cultural variables that influence help-seeking and ongoing utilization of mental health services may aid in the engagement, effective treatment, and retention of ethnic minority children and adolescents with depression. However, given the great heterogeneity that exists within any cultural grouping, clinicians will need to integrate information about cultural patterns with that obtained from the individual patient and family to inform optimal practices for each patient. This article is written to enhance awareness on the part of the practitioner as to the variables that influence psychiatric care for depression in culturally diverse youth. The mental health needs of minority youth are not well served: They are treated less frequently, and when they are treated, the services they receive are less frequently adequate. The reasons that have been proposed for the disparities in their care, particularly with regard to diagnosis and treatment for depression, will be reviewed. They include contextual factors (such as economics, insurance, and other variables affecting the availability of services) patient and family factors (such as prevalence, symptom presentation, and values and beliefs that influence whether patients are referred to and avail themselves of services), and provider factors (such as referral bias and patient-provider communication, which affect whether patients engage and stay in treatment). The implications for the practitioner treating ethnic minority youth with depression will be discussed. Culture, as used in this article, refers to the common values, beliefs, and social behaviors of individuals with a shared heritage. Some aspects of culture that are likely to influence service utilization include health beliefs, particularly regarding models of mental illness, and level of stigma toward mental health treatment, which are frequently shared by individuals in a cultural group. However, some caveats for the explanatory potential of "culture" should be kept in mind. Conventions for naming groups vary between investigators and over time (e.g., the restriction of the category "White" into "White NonHispanic," is quite recent). Although heterogeneity is assumed within a named cultural or racial group, the terms Hispanic, Asian, and African-American incorporate subgroups can be very different in linguistic, historical, and geographical ancestry (e.g., Stewart 2008), and each group incorporates individuals who may not share any components of their historical heritage. Even among those with historical ties, values, beliefs, and social behaviors can vary according to the extent to which they identify with the mainstream culture. Social class frequently creates a "culture" of its own, with individuals in the same social class across traditional cultural groupings sharing disparities in care, and many beliefs and values. Individuals are likely to belong to numerous "cultures," and may not share specific typical behaviors or beliefs with any of them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-79
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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