Depression is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults. Recent CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance data indicated that among adults age 50 or older, 7.7% reported current depression and 15.7% reported a lifetime diagnosis of depression.
Depression is associated with distress and suffering and can lead to impairments in physical, mental, and social functioning. The presence of depressive disorders often adversely affects the course and complicates the treatment of other chronic diseases – a particular concern among older adults given the high prevalence of multiple chronic conditions in this age group. Older adults with depression also visit the doctor and emergency room more often, use more medication, incur higher outpatient charges, and stay longer in the hospital. Although the rate of older adults with depressive symptoms tends to increase with age, depression should not be considered a normal part of growing older. Rather, in 80% of cases it is a treatable condition. Because depression is a highly treatable but currently under-treated condition among community-based older adults, all disease prevention programs for older adults should include a depression treatment component.
Over the last decade, depression and other mental health problems have gained increased attention from the public health community. Mental health, including treatment of depression, is one of the Healthy People 2010. The World Health Organization has launched a new initiative focused on depression in public health. The Guide to Community Preventive Services (Community Guide), developed by the non-federal Task Force on Community Preventive Services, has given the rating of “Recommended” to interventions involving collaborative care for treatment of adults 18 years of age or older who have major depression. Depression care management interventions for older adults is essential. Additionally, states are becoming increasingly aware of the burden of depression on their residents. For example, in 2005, Michigan (through its Michigan Public Health Institute) engaged in strategic statewide planning efforts to bring diverse partners together around the area of depression.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Older Adults and Mental Health. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General 1999.
http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter5/sec1.html. Accessed January 5, 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Association of Chronic. The State of Mental Health and Aging in America
What Do the Data Tell Us? Atlanta, GA: National Association of Chronic Disease Directors; 2008.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010.
http://www.health.gov/healthypeople. Accessed January 5, 2009.