Family Influences on the Use of Mental Health Services among African Americans

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We examine how families influence mental health service (MHS) utilization among African Americans by drawing on the concept of family ambivalence, which encompasses both family support and stress, and by placing utilization within the context of family histories of psychiatric disorder and treatment. Data are from the 2001–2003 National Survey of American Life, a nationally representative sample of African American adults (n = 3,149), including a clinical need subsample (n = 605) of respondents with a disorder. Negative family interactions have indirect positive effects on use of any MHS through need for care, whereas family social support lacks any effect. Although poor self-rated mental health (SRMH) is associated with greater utilization of any and specialty MHS given family histories of no disorder or treated disorder, utilization is low given a family history of untreated disorder, irrespective of SRMH. Screening for family histories of psychiatric disorder in primary care is recommended.