Mental Health Care for Older Americans Not Up to SnuffMany older Americans who suffer from mental health disorders are not receiving treatment that meets evidence-based standards, according to a national poll.

The national survey by the John A. Hartford Foundation, entitled Silver and Blue: The Unfinished Business of Mental Health Care for Older Adults, included a sample of 1,101 adults aged 65 years and older. An additional 307 interviews were conducted among the same age group who had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder or had experienced recent feelings of depression or anxiety since age 65.

Overall, 20 percent of the participants had at least one mental health diagnosis; 14 percent had been diagnosed with depression, and 11 percent had been diagnosed with anxiety.

A fear of stigma was low among survey respondents — only 13 percent reported that they would not tell anyone if they were feeling depressed or anxious.

Awareness of health risks associated with depression was also low. For example:

  • Only 34 percent of respondents knew that depression is associated with a doubling of heart disease risk;
  • Only 35 percent knew that depression is associated with an increased risk of dying from another disease;
  • Only 21 percent had heard that depression doubles the risk for dementia.

Among those receiving treatment for a mental health diagnosis, 46 percent reported that their doctor had not contacted them within a few weeks of initiating therapy.

Another 38 percent said that their doctor had not told them about potential side effects of antidepressant drugs, and 40 percent indicated that their doctor had not told them how long treatment would take to work.

One third said that their doctor did not discuss different treatment options, and 22 percent indicated that their doctor had not worked with them to decide on the best treatment option.

The majority (73 percent) reported that their doctor had not used a survey or questions to measure how they were doing.

A little over half of the same sample said that their doctor had not discussed non-drug strategies such as exercise or social activities that might help improve their mental health.

“Treating depression and other mental health conditions can be very successful, but it is not easy,” said Christopher Langston, Ph.D., Hartford Foundation program director.

“The first drug, the first treatment or a single treatment often doesn’t work, [and] it is a needless tragedy that so many older people are still receiving mental health care that does not measure up.”

Source:  John A. Hartford Foundation