Home » Blogs » Therapy That Works » What are Mental Health Disparities?

What are Mental Health Disparities?

With the growing diversity of the U.S. population, it is imperative that we, as mental health treatment providers, are culturally aware and competent in providing the best possible evidence-based healthcare.

I am pleased to welcome Clinical Psychologist, Dr. L. Kevin Chapman, who serves as Associate Professor, and Director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville. Dr. Chapman is an expert in evidence-based psychotherapy practice and focuses his academic endeavors on efforts to eliminate mental health disparities.

This post is Part 1 of 2 in which Dr. Chapman discusses healthcare’s responsibility to our changing community.


What are mental health disparities?

Dr. Chapman:  Mental health disparities refer to significant differences in the assessment, study, treatment, or rates of mental disorders in underrepresented groups.


What is the importance of addressing mental health disparities in our culture? 

Dr. Chapman:  There are a number of important reasons to address mental health disparities in the United States. First, non-Hispanic Whites will be a minority in the US by 2050. Furthermore, our understanding of how cultural factors affect mental health and wellness in ethnic minority groups will be paramount for the delivery of culturally proficient psychological interventions. Second, the usefulness of “gold standard” assessments for mental health conditions continues to be questioned, since many studies suggest differences in symptom presentations in ethnic minority individuals as compared to non-Hispanic Whites. Third, ethnic minority individuals are uniquely impacted by cultural factors and these factors influence perception, manifestation, and description of many psychological symptoms.


What might we learn from studying mental health disparities within our larger culture?   In what ways might standard evidence-based treatments differ when applied across various cultures?

Dr. Chapman:  Evidence-based treatments for ethnic minority individuals remains mixed at best for a number of reasons including but not limited to: small sample sizes, attrition, and failure to adequately address racial and ethnic identity in treatment outcome studies. Additionally, there is a significant amount of heterogeneity in ethnic minority individuals (e.g., differences within groups) due to age, generational factors, neighborhood, SES, education, racial identity, racial identity of parents, and acculturation) so the description of symptoms may significantly vary (see Carter, Sbrocco, & Carter, 1996; Chapman, Vines, & Petrie, 2011).

Most studies fail to adequately address these factors, not to mention contain very few ethnic minorities in treatment outcome studies while often arbitrarily concluding that a treatment is “generally effective.” One example of such is the handling of “safety behaviors” in the treatment of panic disorder. A person of faith who engages in prayer prior to being exposed to a feared situation where panic may occur may be engaging in a “safety behavior” which is typically construed as contraindicative to treatment. However, understanding the role of prayer in many cultures requires a clinician to understand how and when to alter an empirically supported treatment to fit the needs of an individual client; it requires a high quality, unspecified amount of training to obtain cultural proficiency and the necessary knowledge and skills to know when and how to adapt treatment to meet the needs of diverse individuals.

We will welcome Dr. Chapman back on Thursday to discuss issues such as access to care, mental health delivery systems, treatment response, and improving evidence-based practice with attention to diverse populations.  To learn more about Dr. Chapman, visit the Center for Mental Health Disparities.

Dr. L. Kevin Chapman

Leader Photo can be found on 123RF.

Dr. Deibler

What are Mental Health Disparities?

Marla W. Deibler, PsyD

Marla W. Deibler, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and nationally-recognized expert in anxiety disorders and the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, including trichotillomania and other body-focused repetitive behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding, and tic disorders. She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia in New Jersey, an outpatient facility specialized in providing evaluation and evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral therapies for these and other difficulties. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of OCD-NJ, the New Jersey affiliate of the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF). Dr. Deibler gained her formative clinical experiences at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Children’s National Medical Center, and the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. She gained specialized behavior therapy experience in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders at the nationally-recognized Behavior Therapy Center of Greater Washington. Dr. Deibler served as a clinician at the National Center for Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression. She also served as Director of Behavioral Sciences at the Temple University School of Dentistry and served on the clinical faculty at Temple University Schools of Medicine and Allied Health as well as Temple University Children’s Medical Center. Dr. Deibler has published scientific research in peer-reviewed journals and has presented clinical training seminars and research findings at national and international meetings. She has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show, A&E’s “Hoarders”, TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive”, CBS News, ABC News, FOX News, It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle (CN8, Retirement TV), and CBS’s “Swift Justice with Nancy Grace”. She has been quoted by media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and the Connecticut Post, among others. Dr. Deibler holds licenses to practice psychology in New Jersey (Lic. No. 35S100438000) and Pennsylvania (Lic. No. PS0157790). She is an active member of the American Psychological Association, Trichotillomania Learning Center, International OCD Foundation, OCD-New Jersey, Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Dr. Deibler resides in suburban Philadelphia with her husband (who is also a psychologist) and three children.

One comment: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Deibler, M. (2012). What are Mental Health Disparities?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Nov 2012
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.