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Depression Often Goes Untreated

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October 3, 2016
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Depression Often Poorly Diagnosed and Untreated

The use of antidepressant drugs in the U.S. is increasing, but a new study found that many adults with depression do not receive proper treatment.

The study found that some adults who are diagnosed with depression are not getting any treatment, or may not be getting treatment that correctly matches the severity of their individual diagnosis.

These results published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, are an alert pointing to the need for more alignment of treatment for depression that meets the person’s specific needs.

"There are challenges in aligning depression care with patient needs," said the study’s lead author, Dr. Mark Olfson, in an article in The New York Times. "Extending the use of simple screening tools in primary care is a good first step," said Olfson, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. "Most adults who screen positive for depression don’t receive any treatment."

The study surveyed more than 46,000 adults during 2012 and 2013. It used a respected scale to determine depressed mood. The researchers defined treatment as having visited a psychotherapist or other mental health professional or having taken a psychiatric drug.

Warning Signs of Depression

Some people may consider that some apparently common issues may be related to burnout or fatigue from a busy lifestyle in a society often overwhelmed by information and the emphasis on getting things done on a 24/7 schedules.

But these are among the red flags that signal possible depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s important to seek assistance from a trained mental health professional if you or a loved one have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks.

Here are a few warning signs of depression:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities

Options for Treating Depression

The first step is an accurate diagnosis from a trained mental health professional. Depression can often be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two. Other basic lifestyle practices can also help, including:

    • Be active and exercise
    • Set realistic goals for yourself
    • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative
    • Try not to isolate yourself and let others help you
    • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately
    • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.


Bakalar, Nicholas, "Depression is Poorly Diagnosed and Often Goes Untreated," New York Times, Sept. 1, 2016.

Olfson, Mark, "Treatment of Adult Depression in the United States," Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 29, 2016.

National Institute of Mental Health, "Depression," May 2016.

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