Suffering in Silence: Two-Thirds of Seniors Say They Won’t Treat Their Depression

Sami Smith

After experiencing depression, Sami Smith found an effective treatment with the help of her psychiatrist and the GeneSight test, a genetic test that can help determine how a patient’s genes may impact their outcomes with certain medications based on their unique DNA. Credit: Myriad Neuroscience, makers of the GeneSight test

New nationwide poll shows 1 in 3 respondents age 65+ think they can just “snap out of it.”

As the nation continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we care for the physical and mental health of the most vulnerable, including older Americans. But while most seniors wouldn’t hesitate to see a doctor for physical symptoms, that’s not the case with depression.

A new nationwide poll, the GeneSight Mental Health Monitor, shows that nearly two-thirds (61%) of Americans age 65 or older who have concerns about having depression will not seek treatment. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 (33%) seniors who are concerned they might be suffering from depression believe they can “snap out” of it on their own.

“The ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mindset of some seniors and reluctance to talk about mental health are hindering them from getting the help they need — especially now when the pandemic is having an enormous impact on the mental health of older Americans,” said Dr. Mark Pollack, chief medical officer of Myriad Neuroscience, makers of the GeneSight test. “People will seek treatment for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Depression is no different. It is an illness that can and should be treated.”

Yet, while depression is a condition that needs to be treated:

  • 61% of respondents who are concerned they might have depression would not treat it because “my issues aren’t that bad.”
  • About 4 in 10 (39%) of these consumers think they can manage depression without a doctor’s help.

“Seniors are not proactively asking for help and, even if psychiatric issues are identified, many refuse treatment due to the stigma surrounding mental health care that is especially prevalent among the older generation,” said Dr. Parikshit Deshmukh, CEO and medical director of Balanced Wellbeing LLC in Oxford, Florida, which provides psychiatric and psychotherapy services to nursing and assisted living facilities. “I’ve found older adults have a very difficult time admitting that they have depression. When they do acknowledge it, they are still reluctant to start treatment for a wide variety of reasons.”

Dr. Mark Pollack

Dr. Mark Pollack, chief medical officer at Myriad Neuroscience, says he and his team are working to help psychiatric care be as efficient as possible. The GeneSight test may reduce the trial and error process that is common when choosing a medication by providing information on how a patient may metabolize or respond based on their unique genetic profile. Credit: Myriad Neuroscience, makers of the GeneSight test

Depression remains a taboo topic among older Americans, despite about one-third of those over the age of 65 who are concerned they have depression recognizing that depression has interfered with their relationships and their ability to enjoy activities.

“There is such a stigma about depression among people my age,” said Carmala Walgren, a 74-year-old resident of New York. “I am proof that you do not have to accept living with depression. Although it may not be easy to find treatment that helps you with your symptoms without causing side effects, it is certainly worth it.”

Walgren’s doctor used information from the results of her GeneSight test, a genetic test that identifies potential gene-drug interactions for depression medications, to help inform Walgren’s medication selection.

“The GeneSight test made such a difference in my life,” said Walgren. “My doctor has used the test results to find medications that helped me.”

“There is a misconception that depression is a normal part of aging, but it’s not,” said Dr. Parikshit Deshmukh. “And seeking help can not only improve lives, it can even save lives.”

GeneSight Test

The GeneSight test helps those who are struggling with anxiety and depression by providing information about their unique genetic makeup to their doctor. The test may reduce trial and error by indicating how a patient will likely metabolize or respond to different medications. Credit: Myriad Neuroscience, makers of the GeneSight test

It’s a growing problem that has been accelerated amid COVID-19. Seniors are both physically vulnerable, which increases anxiety about the virus, and are also likely to suffer the emotional tolls of these difficult times, such as isolation, loneliness, and grief.

That’s why it is more important than ever to deliver effective care to those who need it. Typically, there is often a trial and error process that takes place when identifying an effective medication for each patient. The survey finds that potential side effects and concerns over the effectiveness of medications contribute to seniors’ hesitation to seek treatment.

But a key may lie in a patient’s own unique genetic makeup. The GeneSight test provides information about potential gene-drug interactions to doctors using a patient’s unique DNA. The test is done with a simple cheek swab either in the doctor’s office or at a patient’s home. Within a few days, doctors receive a report with information on which medications may require dose adjustments, may be less likely to work, or may have an increased risk of side effects based on a patient’s genetic results.

“There are a variety of effective treatments for depression, but what works well for one patient won’t necessarily be the most effective option for the next,” said Dr. Mark Pollack, chief medical officer of Myriad Neuroscience, makers of the GeneSight test. “We’re working to help doctors deliver care as efficiently as possible by personalizing medication selection for their patients.”

Pollack says the first step to providing treatment to seniors is opening the conversation between doctors and patients on the importance of mental health. For more information on older adults and depression, please visit

The GeneSight® Mental Health Monitor is a nationwide survey of US adults conducted by Acupoll from August 12-September 27, 2020. The survey was conducted among a statistically representative sample of US adults age 18+, including a US representative sample of adults age 65 and older. The margin of error in survey results for those aged 65+ who are concerned they may have depression but have not been diagnosed is +/-5%.

5 Comments on "Suffering in Silence: Two-Thirds of Seniors Say They Won’t Treat Their Depression"

  1. —-“There is such a stigma about depression among people my age…”

    We seem determind to teach it, of course there are people who internalize it.

  2. Trouble is SSRI’s cause dementia like symptoms.

  3. Well I certainly do have a problem with just medicating everybody, so if I felt depressed I would probably not want to take anything for it. Really how much faith should we put into medications for mental issues….I’m a Brit, 80 years old, and not very trusting of the idea that “there is a medication for anything that ails you” which I regard as a typical US Capitalist position !!!. Everybody feels depressed at some time or another, mostly a good night’s sleep or a telephone chat with somebody you love will fix the problem. When it persists, maybe you need a little chemical help to divert you from a tendency to brood on your problems. But I do think the medical world is far too quick to assume that everything needs a pill to fix it ! The drug manufacturers should not be allowed to advertise their products IMO – it gives people either too much confidence in chemicals or it makes others too scared to use them because of the possible side effects. The truth is that any one human body is an extremely complex organism, not very well understood YET by the medical world, as we see ever more amazing discussions of genetics & biome complexity -yes I read a lot !- and so I believe we need to take all supposed ‘facts’ as just the position we think we know right now, and not be the least bit surprised to discover over time that that was quite wrong !

  4. Mortality cannot be controlled any more than a star can be kept from imploding / exploding. At 77 I survived diseases that killed others. So what? I followed my Doctor’s advice on occasion, but told them if the therapy isn’t working take me off it. Anti-Depressants are simply a way of getting a patient to accept placebos. Only your own immunity will stop the trillions of microbial zoo everyone carries in them. Panic at the pandemic is a case in point. Bad science, bad subjective stories, and flawed data without ‘blinds’ are the norm today. Coming from non-scientists, uneducated politicians are the worst at not listening, wanting to save everyone.

  5. zero attention paid to the difficulty many have in affording to pay for medications (even the co-pays) and therapy. Most of the studies I’ve seen concluded that both talk therapy and medication were the most effective, not one or the other but both combined. How many (in the US) have insurance that will cover more then a few therapy sessions? Or can even find a therapist they like/get along with? Most have waiting lists. Given the poor record of mental health apps and privacy of data (and of course almost total lack of accountability for maintaining privacy or laws requiring informing people of the existence of a privacy policy if there is one) it may not be wise to use a mental health app.

    Maybe access to mental health care is better in some EU nations then it is in the US.
    In the US, there is stigma against depression and every other mental disorder (although Trump’s disorders were well tolerated, some of his disorder behaviors seemed almost worshipped by some of his “base.”), for an example just read a recent NY Times article about which “friends” to get rid of because they’re too ‘negative’ or depressed/if your friends aren’t happy happy (or good at pretending to be) time to discard them.
    Medications don’t work for many or have severe side effects, most insurance in the US won’t pay for some of the more recent treatments, that require devices, transcranial stimulation, et al. No insurance, you’d better have a substantial income. Again, maybe access isn’t so tied to wealth outside of the US.

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