Despite climbing numbers of antidepressant prescriptions, most Americans struggling with depression don’t receive treatment, a new study shows. Researchers mentioned lower income, insufficient education and lack of insurance as primary causes.
Study authors also believe that integrating mental health care in primary care could enable more patients to get the necessary help.
Dr. Mark Olfson of the New York State Psychiatric Institute in NYC and lead author of the study commented on the findings. He noted that most physicians are unaware about how bad the situation really is. Doctors usually associate the growing popularity of antidepressants with lower undertreatment of depression.
But this is simply not true. Although the number prescriptions for psychiatric meds skyrocketed in recent years, most patients carry the burden of their illness in silence. And this happens even when there is a full-fledged diagnosis of depression.
Past studies have shown that more than a decade ago about 50 percent of Americans with a long history of depressive disorder had never received medical attention for the condition.
Additionally, there is little data on how many people struggling with major depression receive treatment and on how many of the people who have access to treatment get an appropriate therapy.
Dr. Olfson’s team analyzed data from the 2012-2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys. The researchers planned to learn whether U.S. adults who had a positive diagnosis for depression got treatment. Additionally, the research team looked for a link between severe depression and more intensive mental health care.
The study revealed that between 2012 and 2013, one in 12 Americans had a diagnosis of depression. Depending on income, that figure varied a lot. Nearly one in five (18 percent) lower-income individuals screened positive for depression.
Furthermore, just 28.7 percent of patients diagnosed with depression received medical help. The good news is that more than 78 percent of patients who screened positive of repression paid their doctor a visit at least once during the survey year.
The research team noted that men, poorly educated individuals, and racial minorities were more likely to fail to get treatment.
The Study’s Findings
Of the adults who did get treatment for their depressive symptoms (8.1 percent), just 29 percent had a diagnosis and nearly 22 percent displayed serious symptoms.
About 87 percent of adults who had access to care took antidepressants. The rest either opted for psychotherapy (23.2 percent), antipsychotics (7 percent), and anxiolytics (13.5 percent).
Patients with serious depressive symptoms usually took antipsychotics, psychotherapy, mood stabilizers, or anxiolytics, rather than antidepressants. In these patients’ case, antidepressants worked better with psychotherapy.
About 75 percent of patients who sought depression help got their treatment from general medical practitioners. But these patients were less likely to get a diagnosis for their condition than the mental health professionals’ patients.
Psychiatrists treated about half of highly educated patients, and nearly a third of the less educated peers.
“The results highlight ongoing challenges in aligning depression care with patient needs,”
Dr. Olfson’s team recommends the integration of depression screening tools in primary care for higher diagnosis rates. The tools could also provide vital guidance to the best course of action for each patient.
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