Whites experiencing depression are far more likely to be diagnosed by a physician than other ethnic groups, according to a new study.

The study reveals that 76 percent of whites with self-reported depression symptoms are officially diagnosed, compared to just 58.7 percent of blacks, 62.7 percent of Hispanics and 47.4 percent of Asians.

Findings also show strong differences among ethnic groups in the prevalence of depression among the four ethnic groups studied.

Of the 53.8 million Americans reporting they suffer from depression — a quarter of the US population — 25.8 percent are white, 19.8 percent are black, 27.6 percent are Hispanic and 16.1 percent are Asian. (Respondents who were not among the four ethnic groups being examined were excluded from the study.)

“Although the differences in prevalence are significant, the wide variations in diagnosis rates are particularly critical and alarming, since patients must be diagnosed to be treated,” says Michael Fronstin, Chief Operating Officer of CHS.

“While we are unsure of the cultural or socio-economic drivers behind those variations, it is clear that steps must be taken to provide both patient and physician education programs that support increased diagnoses and more timely therapy for minority patients.

“One of the issues the research uncovered is that patients don’t associate depression symptoms with the actual condition. We must provide the tools and training for medical providers and patients to be able to discuss depression, as well as its specific symptoms, in culturally relevant terms that ensure those who are suffering get the help they need.”

Reporting Symptoms Does Not Mean Recognizing Depression

The CHS study assessed depression by asking respondents if, over the last month, they have often experienced being down, depressed or hopeless or having little interest or pleasure in doing things. The results show a clear disconnect between patients reporting depression symptoms and recognizing the underlying condition.

Of those who do not self report having depression, 11.5% of whites, 12.5% of blacks, 13% of Hispanics and 12.7% of Asians indicate they are suffering from one of the depression symptoms. In addition, 10.1% of whites, 11.5% of blacks, 12.9% of Hispanics and 11.2% of Asians not self-reporting depression are, in fact, experiencing both symptoms.

“While recommendations have been made at the policy level to increase access to care and treatment for minority patients, that’s just part of the solution,” says Fronstin.

“We also must raise both physician and patient awareness of the importance of talking openly about symptoms.”

The study’s results were drawn from the 2008 US National Health and Wellness Survey (NHWS), a nationally representative, self-administered survey conducted annually via the Internet. Topics covered include the health status, attitudes and outcomes among adults 18 or older.

Source: CHS