Online Program

Discrepancies in longitudinal self-reported racial categorization: Implications for mental health services research

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Christopher R. Larrison, PhD, School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Samantha Hack-Ritzo, MSW, School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Karen Tabb, PhD, MSW, School of Social Work, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
Background: Racial categories are typically treated as mutually exclusive in mental health research. Contrary to this standard, racial categorization is coupled with dynamic socio, economic, and political factors resulting in unstable self-reported race data that can potentially misrepresent the meaning of race and how it relates to mental health services and treatment outcomes.

Methods: Longitudinal survey data were collected from 661 adults at 13 rural community mental health agencies in the Midwest. Race was self-reported on the Behavior and Symptom Identification Scale-24 (BASIS-24), which participants completed three times over six months. Crosstabs, Lambda, and Chi-square tests were used to analyze the data.

Results: Crosstabs established that 77 (11.6%) of the 661 participants changed their self-reported race. Lambda confirmed that race at the first measure was a strong, though not very strong or perfect, predictor of race at the second and third measures (λ=.76; .75). Chi-square tests established that there were statistically significant variations (p<.001) when comparing participants' first to second and first to third self-reported race. Individuals identifying as American Indian (n=10), Multiracial (n=21), Native Hawaiian (n=3), White (n=29), and Black (n=14) changed their identity in a wide variety of patterns.

Conclusions: Mental health researchers should not assume that race data are stable across multiple measures. Nearly 12% of participants changed their self-reported race in an unpredictable array of variations in our sample. Possible solutions include resolving participants' race in follow-up phone or face-to-face interviews, or treating these participants as a unique race group in statistical analyzes.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Assess the accuracy of self-report race data in mental health research. Discuss how the method that is used to measure race impacts our understanding of disparities in mental health services research. Identify possible methods for improving the accuracy of race measures in mental health services research.

Keyword(s): Ethnic Identity, Mental Health Services

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Social Work with over 15 years of professional and research experience related to community mental health agencies. Among my scientific interests is the study of racial disparities in mental health services.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.