Huge Number Of People Newly Diagnosed With Depression Go Untreated, Research Says

By Victoria Kim 02/13/18

Among people who actually chose to start treatment, over 80% chose antidepressants over therapy.

depressed man

Despite receiving a diagnosis for depression, most people do not take the next step and seek treatment.

This is according to new research by health care provider Kaiser Permanente, which analyzed data of over 12 million people, including health and insurance records, to gauge the number of people who seek help.

The study, which analyzed the time period between 2010-2013, discovered that among 240,000 people who received a new diagnosis of depression, just 35.7% of them (a little over a third) started treatment in the next 90 days.

And among people who did start treatment, more than 80% chose to be put on antidepressants rather than therapy.

The findings, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, are concerning. Depression is considered the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and affects more than 300 million people.

According to Kaiser Permanente, more than 16 million American adults experience a major depressive episode each year. They estimate that the annual cost of “depression-related” health care or lost productivity comes to about $210 billion.

The reason why so many people forgo treatment is not addressed in the new study. “Although there are known, effective treatments for depression, fewer than half of those affected in the world (in many countries, fewer than 10%) receive such treatments,” according to WHO. “Barriers to effective care include a lack of resources, lack of trained health-care providers, and social stigma associated with mental disorders.”

Study author Beth Waitzfelder acknowledges the stigma that can hold some people back from seeking treatment for a depression diagnosis. “I don’t think we can overestimate the social stigma that still surrounds mental illness,” she said, according to Forbes. “People often feel embarrassed, ashamed, or that it is their own fault they are depressed. For these reasons they may not want to acknowledge that they are depressed, or seek treatment.”

Waitzfelder acknowledged one limitation of the study, that the people analyzed in the study were diagnosed by primary care doctors—i.e. they made the appointment for a different matter, but left with an unexpected diagnosis for depression.

“This is very different from someone who is experiencing problems and goes to a mental health provider for help, and then receives a diagnosis of depression,” said Waitzfelder. “The patient may initially be put off by the diagnosis in primary care, and need time to really think about what it means and what they should do about it.” In contrast, someone who consulted a psychiatrist or other mental health care provider may be more open to seeking treatment for their depression.

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