Why so many older adults won’t treat their depression

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A new nationwide survey shows nearly two-thirds of older Americans won’t seek treatment for depression even if they have concerns, and more than a third won’t even if they believe they are suffering from it.

According to the GeneSight Mental Health Monitor, 33% of Americans 65 and older believe they can just “snap out” of depression on their own.

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“The ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mindset of some seniors and reluctance to talk about mental health are hindering them from getting the help they need — especially now when the pandemic is having an enormous impact on the mental health of older Americans,” Dr. Mark Pollack, chief medical officer of Myriad Neuroscience, makers of the GeneSight test, said in a press release. “People will seek treatment for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Depression is no different. It is an illness that can and should be treated.”

Even so, the survey found:

  • 61% of respondents who are concerned they might have depression would not treat it because “my issues aren’t that bad.”
  • About 4 in 10 (39%) of these consumers think they can manage depression without a doctor’s help.
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“In my experience, there is a commonly held view that depression is a normal part of aging; it is not,” said Dr. Parikshit Deshmukh, CEO and medical director of Balanced Wellbeing LLC in Oxford, Florida, which provides psychiatric and psychotherapy services to nursing and assisted living facilities. “I’ve found older adults have a very difficult time admitting that they have depression. When they do acknowledge it, they are still reluctant to start treatment for a wide variety of reasons.”

Despite depression interferring with relationships and the ability to enjoy activities, the press release states, many older Americans still consider it a taboo topic.

“There is such a stigma about depression among people my age,” said Carmala Walgren, a 74-year-old resident of New York. “I am proof that you do not have to accept living with depression. Although it may not be easy to find treatment that helps you with your symptoms without causing side effects, it is certainly worth it.”

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