Many People Who Need Treatment For Depression Don’t Receive It

Recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine found depression treatment isn’t going to those who need it most. According to the study, most Americans who screen positive for the mental illness do not receive treatment, while most of those who do don’t have the condition. The situation in the UK is similar to this.

“Over the last several years, there has been an increase in prescription of antidepressants,” said Mark Olfson, a professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s lead author. “In that context, many people assumed that undertreatment of depression is no longer a common problem.”

However, after analyzing data from surveys that included questionnaires to test for depression, Olfson came to a conflicting conclusion. Of the 46,417 adults surveyed, eight percent provided responses that suggested they had depression. Only 29% of those who appeared to need help received treatment. These findings show finding depression care that aligns with patient needs is still a challenge.

Here are some key findings of the recent study:

Depression Is Prominent in Low-Income Adults

The study found adults in the lowest-income group were five times as likely to have depression, compared to those in the highest-income group. Despite their higher rate for depression, the lower-income group was less likely to receive treatment.

Antidepressants Are Most Commonly Used By Those with Less Serious or No Depression

Among those who received treatment for depression, only 30% screened positive for the condition, and 22% had serious psychological distress. This means they have more severe depression symptoms and may require treatment beyond antidepressants.

The study also found people with less serious or no depression were more likely to receive antidepressants than those who exhibited signs of depression, which shows a problem of over-prescription. According to Stuart MacFarlane, a Jungian analyst, less aggressive treatments, such as psychotherapy, exercise, and meditation, would be beneficial for patients with mild depression.

Some Think They Won’t Benefit From Treatment

While mental illness is being more openly talked about, there can still be a negative stigma associated with it. This could be preventing people with depression from seeking treatment. The study found some people with depression believe they don’t need or would not benefit from treatment.

People with depression visit their primary care doctor at least once a year for pressing medical problems. Olfson suggests that integrating depression screening and mental health services into primary care would increase awareness and access to depression treatment.


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