Does Depression Discriminate?

According to a new study, elderly white Americans receive more diagnoses of depression than their minority counterparts. The study, which was a follow-up to a previous longitudinal study, was led by Ayse Akincigil of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University. Akincigil used data gathered from the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey that included over 33,000 elderly individuals. Several studies conducted in the decade prior to this longitudinal study provided evidence that there were differences in depression diagnoses and treatments for older Americans. The results of these studies led to an increase of both depression diagnosis and medication among African-American and Latino elderly adults for several years. However, recent research has suggested that the ethnic differences still exist among this vulnerable segment of the population.

To shed some light on whether or not there are racial, cultural, or ethnic differences in the treatment and diagnosis of depression, Akincigil looked at the original data and found that among older Americans, the rates of depression were highest among Hispanics and Whites. Specifically, 6.4% of the cases of depression were White Americans, 7.2% were Hispanic Americans, and only 4.2% were African Americans. These results suggest that elderly African Americans are still being underserved in the clinical population with respect to this debilitating mood disorder.

Akincigil believes that there are many factors that could be influencing these findings. First, minority attitudes toward mental health care differ, and some ethnic groups think that psychological problems do not always need medical intervention. Stigma is another barrier to seeking help among minorities, and many people are ashamed to ask for help because of how they will be judged. Financial challenges also prevent many elderly minority individuals from receiving the care they need. Akingcigil said that communities have become proactive in addressing these needs and added, “Promising approaches include providing universal depression screening and ensuring access to care in low-income and minority neighborhoods.” Akincigil also noted that despite efforts on the part of mental health clinicians, African Americans are less likely to trust their doctors than White clients. This lack of trust significantly limits disclosure, which is a key element to accurate diagnosis and treatment. Overall, these results imply that depression does not discriminate. However, the current cultural perceptions and conditions perpetuate the prejudice surrounding depression, and, like any discrimination, limit the mental health care opportunities for minority adults.

Akincigil, A., Olfson, M., Siegel, M., Zurlo, K. A., Walkup, J. T. (2012). Racial and ethnic disparities in depression care in community-dwelling elderly in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 102.2, 319-328.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • VreeAnne


    May 8th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    Well, the way I see it is that you typically would have to seek help for something to get a diagnosis. If these minority groups are as a whole against seeking treatment or just don’t in the same numbers as white Americans, then how could that be discrimination? Nothing can be done about something that goes under reported.

  • Logan


    May 8th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Depression does not discriminate
    It knows no bounds, age sex or race
    Anyone can be affected at any time

  • brett sloane

    brett sloane

    May 9th, 2012 at 4:20 AM

    Working with inner city youth I see a real hesitation among the minority population that I work with to talk about their problems with other people, and very few of them have ever really fully utilized the resources for mental health care that is available in our area. Most of the think that that’s not cool to go around sharing their problems with people they don’t even know, so this is something that they are definitely not taking advantage of in the way that I think other segments of the population will. And while it can be easy to get the funding, if they aren’t going to use it, then you can see how the funding could pretty quickly dry up.

  • Collin


    May 9th, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    Depression might not discriminate, but the ability to get help often can feel like it does. The number of minorities with lack of direct access to care is far greater than that experienced by the white American community. Whether it is services in general or the lack of affordability, there is always something holding many of the minorities in the US back from seeking care. For many of them it is the fact that it is looked down upon in their communities, but maybe even worse than that is that most feel like they have to suffer because they don’t have the money to afford getting help. Now that’s pretty sad that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world there are atill so many who feel like they have to let their health go to waste because they can’t afford the cost of a few office visits which could in many ways help to make it a little better.

  • Jodie


    May 9th, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    Nice point towards the end.DePression by itself does not descriminate but the set things we have help in the onset of depression in certain individuals more than the others.

  • verna


    May 10th, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    You know that the doctors who are seeing these elderly patients know that there is something going on and that they could refer out to a therapist or psychaitrist. Why aren’t they being held more accountable for not providing complete services for these patients?

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