THURSDAY, Feb. 8, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Only one-third of people newly diagnosed with depression start treatment quickly, and seniors and minorities are the least likely to get help in a timely fashion, a new study finds.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 240,000 people in the United States who received a new diagnosis of depression from a primary care provider between 2010 and 2013.
Overall, about 36 percent of those patients got antidepressants or counseling within 90 days of their diagnosis. About half of patients with more severe depression started treatment within that time frame.
Race and age seemed to play a part in the findings.
Asians, blacks and Hispanics were at least 30 percent less likely to begin treatment than whites. And patients aged 60 and older were half as likely to begin treatment as those younger than 44, according to the study.
Among patients who began treatment, more than 80 percent received antidepressants rather than counseling. The investigators found that older patients were far less likely to choose counseling -- with rates of 7 percent among patients aged 75 and older, versus 25 percent among patients aged 18 to 29.
All racial and ethnic minorities were more likely than whites to start counseling rather than medication -- a finding that highlights the need for health care providers to consider the preferences of patients when considering treatment.
"There was some older, more limited evidence that many people who are diagnosed with depression do not begin treatment, for reasons ranging from stigma to challenges accessing behavioral health services," said study author Beth Waitzfelder. She is an investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Honolulu.
Previous research has also shown that some groups of patients are much less likely to receive treatment for depression, she added.
"Our study, which was much larger than previous studies, provides important new evidence about the current scope of the problem among leading health care systems across the country that are striving to improve depression care in primary care settings," Waitzfelder said in a Kaiser Permanente news release.
"Screening for depression in primary care is a positive step toward improving detection, treatment and outcome for depression, but disparities persist," she said. "We need a better understanding of the patient and other factors that influence treatment initiation."
Each year, more than 16 million U.S. adults experience major depression.
"Over the last decade, there has been a growing effort to raise awareness about mental health and to integrate mental health care into primary care," Waitzfelder said.
"This is a positive development, since most people receive care from primary care providers," she added. "However, our study shows there is a lot more work to do to understand why many depressed patients do not begin treatment."
The findings were published Feb. 8 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on depression.