Half of depressed Americans go untreated, study finds

A national survey of 15,762 households by researchers from UCLA and Wayne State University found that only 21 percent of Americans suffering from clinical depression receive medical care consistent with American Psychiatric Association guidelines. Half receive no treatment at all.

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 whites. 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 whites.

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States. The study findings unmask 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 it did not explain African Americans’ low levels of treatment, suggesting other variables are at play.

William Vega, professor of family medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and Hector González, professor of family medicine and gerontology at Wayne State University, are available for interviews.

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