Depression is a problem that affects many Americans. Up to four percent of the population may report depression over their lifetime, making it a serious public health concern.
For those in the later years of life, symptoms of depression can be complicated by financial challenges and loneliness, in addition to experiencing additional health problems that can contribute to depression. Individuals may lack the funds or transportation to seek help.
A new study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University indicates that there is a significant difference in how depression is diagnosed and treated among older adults in the United States, and the differences lie in race and ethnicity.
According to the study, authored by Ayse Akincigil of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers, older white Americans receive far more diagnoses for depression than minority older Americans.
The study was conducted as a follow-up to an earlier longitudinal study that utilized the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey. The information used contained data for more than 33,000 elderly adults.
Previous to this study, there have been several documentations of the disparity between the diagnoses and treatments offered to elderly Americans. The impact of these studies was a measurable increase over the next several years in the diagnosis of depression and the issuing of medication to treat the depression found among African American and Latino adults.
However, the data gathered from the survey indicates that there is still a wide gap between the diagnosis and services offered to white elderly Americans versus their minority counterparts.
Akincigil examined original data to find that the highest rates of diagnosis for depression were among whites and Hispanics. Approximately 6.4 percent of diagnoses were for White Americans, 7.2 percent were for Hispanic Americans and 4.2 percent were for African Americans.
The information supports the idea that African Americans continue to be underserved when it comes to depression.
Akincigil explains that there may be various factors that prevent the diagnosis and treatment of depression. For instance, there may be varying attitudes toward mental disorders among some groups, stemming from a belief that psychological problems do not require medical care.
In addition, stigma may be a stronger influence in some groups than others. Many people may be afraid to reveal that there is a struggle because they fear judgment or a loss of respect. Financial difficulties may also pose a challenge, with many elderly minority Americans lacking the funds to seek care.
Akincigil said that many communities have become more proactive in recent years. Moving forward, there may be a demand for universal screening for depression and steps taken to provide care to low-income minority neighborhoods.
The findings of the study are published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Public Health.