Researchers, led by Alan Teo, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at OHSU, and researcher at the VA Portland Health Care System, sought to determine whether support from a loved one encourages people experiencing depression to seek treatment from a health provider or whether that support, by serving as informal treatment, inadvertently discourages people from seeking mental health services.
Their findings show that men experiencing moderate or severe depression who had social support from family or friends were likely to see a primary care or other non-mental health care providers, but only rarely saw a mental health specialist.
The less social support that men reported, the more likely they were to seek help from a mental health provider.
Women, on the other hand, were relatively consistent in their use of mental health services. The researchers studied a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 middle-aged and older adults in the United States.
Social support can take the form of emotional (someone serving as a confidant), informational (a friend providing facts on depression) or instrumental (a family member driving someone to an appointment) help.
Depression is the leading cause of disability and a significant risk factor for suicide.
Fewer than half of severely depressed people receive drug or behavioral treatment.
Just one in 10 with persistent depression receive both appropriate medication and counseling, and older adults with depression are especially unlikely to use mental health services.
The study authors hope to raise awareness among general practitioners that they’re likely to encounter men with clinical depression who are unlikely to seek mental health treatment themselves. The researchers encourage proactive treatment with an antidepressant, psychotherapy, or collaboration with mental health providers.
The paper was published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.