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Study Shows Older Veterans Less Likely to Receive Treatment for Depression


The 12-month prevalence rate of major depressive disorder (MDD) among individuals living in the U.S. is about 7%, but rates of diagnosed depression are nearly twice as high (12%) among Veterans treated in the VA healthcare system. Given that less education and lower income have been found to be associated with increased rates of depression, older Veterans may be at higher risk for depression than those in the general population. This study examined the likelihood that older Veterans who were newly diagnosed with depression received antidepressants, psychotherapy, or both over a 12-month period. Using VA data, investigators identified 147,631 Veterans, 50 years and older, who received a new diagnosis of depression in FY08 and were treated in the VA healthcare system. They also examined associations between socio-demographics, psychiatric and medical comorbidities, and the receipt of depression treatment.

Findings show that 64% of Veterans with a new diagnosis of depression received some form of treatment within 12 months; however, one third (36%) of the Veterans in this study did not receive any treatment for their depression. Of those Veterans who did receive treatment, most received both antidepressants and psychotherapy (27%), followed by 21% who received antidepressants only, and 16% who received psychotherapy only. The odds of receiving any kind of treatment decreased notably with increasing age. Veterans ages 50 to 64 were more likely to receive antidepressants, psychotherapy, or both compared to those in the older age groups. Results also showed that depressed older adults with no medical comorbidities were more likely to receive both antidepressants and psychotherapy compared to no treatment. This study highlights the importance of continued outreach and intervention efforts for depressed older Veterans who are vulnerable to being under-treated.

PubMed Logo Burnett-Zeigler I, Zivin K, Ilgen M, et al. Depression treatment in older adult Veterans. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry March 2012;20(3):228-38.

This study was partly funded by HSR&D (IAC 08-099, and an HSR&D Career Development Award to Dr. Zivin). Drs. Burnett-Zeigler, Zivin, and Ilgen are part of HSR&D's Center for Clinical Management Research in Ann Arbor, MI.

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What are HSR&D Publication Briefs?

HSR&D requires notification by HSR&D-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR&D and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR&D based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR&D published articles. Visit the HSR&D citations database for a complete listing of HSR&D articles and presentations.