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Open Access Research article

Child mental health differences amongst ethnic groups in Britain: a systematic review

Anna Goodman*, Vikram Patel and David A Leon

Author Affiliations

Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT, UK

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:258  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-258

Published: 25 July 2008



Inter-ethnic differences have been reported for many mental health outcomes in the UK, but no systematic review on child mental health has been published. The aim of this review is to compare the population-based prevalence of child mental disorders between ethnic groups in Britain, and relate these findings to ethnic differences in mental health service use.


A systematic search of bibliographic databases for population-based and clinic-based studies of children aged 0–19, including all ethnic groups and the main child mental disorders. We synthesised findings by comparing each minority group to the White British study sample.


31 population-based and 18 clinic-based studies met the inclusion criteria. Children in the main minority groups have similar or better mental health than White British children for common disorders, but may have higher rates for some less common conditions. The causes of these differences are unclear. There may be unmet need for services among Pakistani and Bangladeshi children.


Inter-ethnic differences exist but are largely unexplained. Future studies should address the challenges of cross-cultural psychiatry and investigate reasons for inter-ethnic differences.