Stigma makes elderly more likely to drop out of depression treatment

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Older patients with major depression may be more likely to discontinue depression treatment due to perceived stigma than are their younger counterparts. Researchers in White Plains, New York followed 92 outpatients with major depression over the course of three months. Twenty-nine of the patients were 65 years of age or older; 63 were between the ages of 18 and 64. Although a majority in both groups had negative views of people with mental illness, the younger patients unexpectedly perceived more stigma than did the older patients. Nonetheless, young adults with high scores on the Stigma Coping Scale were 1.3 times less likely to drop out of treatment, while older adults with high stigma scores were 1.7 times more likely to drop out. While we already know that stigma may prevent people from accessing mental health services, this study shows that stigma can affect people's participation once treatment is initiated.

Sixty per cent of those who discontinued treatment did so following the first evaluation sessions. It may be that when treatment is prescribed, patients weigh the perceived social costs of mental health treatment against the possible benefits of treatment, and many older adults see the social costs as being too high. The authors conclude that addressing patients' stigma may be useful in improving treatment adherence and reducing the depression.