How treatment for depression is coming up short

How treatment for depression is coming up short

An estimated 15 million Americans struggle with depression in a given year.

But how many of those who are living with depression are actually treated? A study found an alarming discrepancy.

The research, published in the journal JAMA International Medicine, found that less than a third of people who screen positive for depression are actually receiving treatment.

For the study, the researchers looked at self-reported survey data of more than 46,000 people. While they found that approximately eight percent had depression, less than 30 percent of those people received treatment during the year when the survey was conducted.

Interestingly, the researchers also found that some patients were over-treated for depression. Many with milder forms of depression received antidepressants “despite evidence that these medications have little or no therapeutic benefit for mild depression,” said lead researcher Dr. Mark Olfson in a press release.

Sarah Katula, an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., isn’t surprised by the findings.

“Antidepressant use has increased by over 400 percent since the late 1980s, according to a study in JAMA using CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data,” she says. “We are a culture of quick fixes, and pills are considered a quick fix.”

But why the disparity when it comes to people with depression going untreated?

Dr. Judy Woodburn, an Advocate Medical Group clinical psychologist at BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. says reasons include:

  • Lack of knowledge of appropriate treatment resources
  • Limited access to appropriate treatment due to lack of insurance, financial limitations, limited resources in the patient’s community, lack of transportation and inability to get time off work
  • Stigma around mental illness. For example, in some cultures, seeking help outside the family is frowned up and may prevent someone from receiving help

In order to increase the likelihood of treatment, the message needs to change.

“Depression is treatable,” says Katula. “With mild to moderate depression, there is evidence that talk therapy is the most helpful treatment option and with more severe depression, medication and talk therapy combined were found to be the most helpful.”

In addition, Dr. Woodburn says it is crucial that screenings are followed up by thorough evaluations. “While it might appear someone is depressed from a basic depression screening, sometimes follow ups find other root causes like hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, hormonal changes, Vitamin D deficiency or other medical issues,” she says. “This, too, reinforces the need for primary care providers and mental health providers to collaborate in the evaluation and treatment of patients.”

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  1. Very important to consider. Sometimes, depression can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease. Coordinating a primary care physician with other professionals can be a great help.

  2. Talking from experience, depression can be caused by a food intolerance. I cut yeast out of my diet, and daily migraines ceased and depression got better. I have noticed that patients who have depression, usually experience migraines too. Definitely too quick to prescribe medications. Medications are a good tool to use until the cause can be found, but, only taking medications without pursuing the cause, I feel, is unacceptable.

About the Author

Jackie Hughes
Jackie Hughes

Jacqueline Hughes is a former manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.