Half of Depressed People in U.S. Go Untreated

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

A national survey of 15,762 households by UCLA/Wayne State University researchers found that only 21 percent of people in the U.S. suffering from clinical depression receive medical care consistent with American Psychiatric Association guidelines.
Half receive no treatment at all. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States.

The Archives of General Psychiatry publishes the findings in its January 2010 edition.

The majority of treated patients, nearly 45 percent, received psychotherapy with no medication. Only 34 percent of patients were prescribed antidepressants. Of that number, Mexican Americans and African Americans were prescribed antidepressants a third less often than Caucasians. Factors such as education, health insurance and income did not explain the lower rates of medication use.

African Americans and Mexican Americans faced the greatest barriers to mental health care and received adequate treatment only half as often as Caucasians.

The findings unmasked disparities in health care access often overlooked when Latinos are inappropriately lumped together. This was especially true for Mexican Americans, who showed the greatest inequalities in mental health care. Lack of health insurance partly explained the disparity for Mexican Americans, but not for African Americans' low levels of treatment, suggesting other variables are at play.

The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Aging and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Elaine Schmidt Haber

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