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Systematic Review

Differential Engagement by Race/Ethnicity in Experimental Trials of Mental Health Treatment Interventions: A Systematic Review

Peter C. Lam, MPHa,*; Danielle Simpson, MDb; Dolly A. John, PhDa; Micaela Rodriguez, BAc; David Bridgman-Packer, MD, MPHd; Amanda Gabrielle Cruz, MSe; Maeve A. O’Neill, MDf; and Roberto Lewis-Fernández, MDa,g

Published: September 14, 2022


Objective: Research on mental health interventions, largely from observational studies, suggests that individuals who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have lower treatment engagement than non-Latino Whites. This systematic review focuses on prospective, experimental treatment trials, which reduce variability in patient and intervention characteristics and some access barriers (eg, cost), to examine the association of race/ethnicity and engagement.

Data Sources: A systematic search of PubMed and PsycINFO through May 2020 using terms covering mental health treatment, engagement, and race/ethnicity.

Study Selection: US-based, English-language, prospective experimental (including quasi-experimental) trials of adults treated for DSM-defined mental disorders were included. Studies had to compare engagement (treatment initiation and retention, medication adherence) across 2 or more ethnoracial groups. Fifty-five of 2,520 articles met inclusion criteria.

Data Extraction: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines and the Cochrane Collaboration bias-risk assessment tool were used to report study findings.

Results: Twenty-nine articles (53%) reported significant ethnoracial engagement differences, of which 93% found lower engagement among BIPOC groups compared largely to non-Latino Whites. The proportion of significant findings was consistent across quality of studies, covariate adjustments, ethnoracial groups, disorders, treatments, and 4 engagement definitions. Reporting limitations were found in covariate analyses and disaggregation of results across specific ethnoracial groups.

Conclusions: Prospective experimental treatment trials reveal consistently lower BIPOC engagement, suggesting persisting disparities despite standardized study designs. Future research should improve inclusion of understudied groups, examine covariates systematically, and follow uniform reporting and analytic practices to elucidate reasons for these disparities.

Volume: 83

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