August 12th, 2020

// Racial, social factors contribute to mental health inequity, says Baker Institute experts

Racial, social factors contribute to mental health inequity, says Baker Institute experts

HOUSTON – (Aug. 12, 2020) – Inequities throughout society influence mental health research, where they can become self-perpetuating and contribute to persistent disparities in mental health services, according to new research from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. 

The researchers argue that the same inequities that affect access to education or job security affect both mental and physical health.

Health equity is a concept that acknowledges systemic and societal barriers to achieving health and wellness, framing health "in terms of equal opportunity to be healthy, as opposed to simply the outcome of health,” wrote Quianta Moore, fellow in child health policy at the Baker Institute, and Patrick Tennant, project mananger for child mental health at the institute. “The implicit declaration of this framing — that not only are we not all equally healthy, but we do not all have an equal opportunity to be healthy — is critical in addressing mental health equity.”

Moore and Tennant said influences on the opportunity to be healthy include race, immigration status and political, economic and community factors. 

“In fact, decades of research demonstrate that social, environmental and economic factors have a greater impact on health outcomes than clinical care, with 80% of health

outcomes attributed to these social determinants of health (SDOH),” they wrote.

SDOH are influenced by “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work and play,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These conditions are affected by the distribution of money, power and resources at the individual, community and national levels, according to the paper.

Due to historical racial and ethnic discrimination, minority populations are more likely to experience negative SDOH and are also more likely to distrust the health care system, the authors argue. 

“A critical, reflective review of the participation and contribution of the health care field to adverse conditions and community mistrust is necessary as a first step toward achieving equity,” they wrote. “We focus our inequity discussion on race because the social construct of race compounds and perpetuates disadvantage in the United States, and racial disparities exist in every outcome of individual and community well-being.”

Despite progress, “remnants of racism and false beliefs” contribute to health inequities, the authors wrote. 

The paper argues that partnering with communities and leveraging community expertise “can help remove inequities and barriers in the research-to-practice pipeline and help to correct mistaken assumptions and biases.”

“By including community-articulated needs, priorities and recommendations we resist replicating existing service disparities in our clinical and research practice, thereby optimizing opportunities for socially disadvantaged populations to achieve mental health and well-being,” the authors wrote.


To schedule an interview with Moore or Tennant or for more information, contact Avery Franklin, media relations specialist at Rice, at or 713-348-6327.

Related materials:


Moore bio:

Tennant bio:

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Follow the Baker Institute’s Center for Health & Biosciences via Twitter @BakerCHB.

This news release can be found online at

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks as the No. 2 university-affiliated think tank in the world and the No. 1 energy think tank in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,962 undergraduates and 3,027 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 4 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.


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