Older Men With Depression Have Higher Mortality Risk
While depression appears to be more prevalent in women, an estimated 6 million men suffer from the condition in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It is a growing concern among older adults – one in 10 people over the age of 60 are affected. An Australian study recently found that depression in older men was often not adequately treated and led to a higher mortality rate.
Lead study author Professor Osvaldo Almeida of the University of Western Australia assessed the health and lifestyle of over 5,200 men over the age of 68 living in Perth over the course of ten years. Older men who were using antidepressants, but remained depressed, had a substantially higher mortality risk while those on medications that were free of depressive symptoms had a similar mortality rate as the rest of the healthy population.
"This is a big issue, not only because depression causes significant personal suffering and disability, but also because our results show that these men are also more likely to die," Professor Almeida said. "The most plausible explanation for these results is that the increased mortality risk associated with antidepressant use is not due to the medication itself, but to the persistence of depressive symptoms despite treatment. In other words, it is the depression that is contributing to shorten people's lives."
Professor Almeida said that more than half of older men with depression who use medication or psychotherapy fail to fully respond to treatment.
The symptoms of depression in men are similar to those found in women, but men tend to express themselves differently. While women may feel sad and emotional, men are often irritable, aggressive, or hostile. Depression in men is also under-diagnosed because men oftentimes do not discuss their symptoms with their doctors. Men may fall back on the stereotype of being “strong” and that displays of emotion are “feminine.”
Older adults in particular are often misdiagnosed because they are reluctant to discuss feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. One study found that about 70% of older suicide victims had been to their primary care physicians within the month of their death, many with undetected symptoms.
According to the NIMH, more than 80% of people with depression, both men and women, can be treated successfully with antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.