Skip to main content

Objective: Depression and substance abuse are common among low-income adults from racial-ethnic minority groups who receive services in safety-net settings, although little is known about how clients differ by service setting. This study examined characteristics and service use among depressed, low-income persons from minority groups in underresourced communities who did and did not have a substance abuse history.

Methods: The study used cross-sectional baseline client data (N=957) from Community Partners in Care, an initiative to improve depression services in Los Angeles County. Clients with probable depression (eight-item Patient Health Questionnaire) from substance abuse programs were compared with depressed clients with and without a history of substance abuse from primary care, mental health, and social and community programs. Sociodemographic, health status, and services utilization variables were examined.

Results: Of the 957 depressed clients, 217 (23%) were from substance abuse programs; 269 (28%) clients from other sectors had a substance abuse history, and 471 (49%) did not. Most clients from substance abuse programs or with a substance abuse history were unemployed and impoverished, lacked health insurance, and had high rates of arrests and homelessness. They were also more likely than clients without a substance abuse history to have depression or anxiety disorders, psychosis, and mania and to use emergency rooms.

Conclusions: Clients with depression and a substance abuse history had significant psychosocial stressors and high rates of service use, which suggests that communitywide approaches may be needed to address both depression and substance abuse in this safety-net population.