Mexican-American men are significantly less likely to receive treatment for depression than non-Hispanic white males – and those Latinos receiving help are not necessarily getting better.

According to a study of 360 men visiting primary care facilities in Northern Central California, depression was prevalent almost equally among both ethnic groups of men over 60.

However, 70 percent of the Latino males were untreated, compared to 25 percent of non-Hispanic white males. The research, funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry this week.

Significant factors play a role in the disparity.

Doctors were less likely to diagnose Mexican-American men with depression than white men. Only 35 percent of the Latino population had been told they had the disease, compared with 68 percent of the non-Hispanic white men.

Missed diagnoses could be partially explained by expression, said study researcher Ladson Hinton, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis.

“A number of men don’t emphasize some of the classic symptoms,” explained Hinton. “So rather than emphasize that they feel sad, they emphasize they feel useless or worthless in some way. ‘Inutil’ is a word they used.”

The treatment gap is not only brought on by missed diagnoses. It might also be due to a decreased likelihood of disclosure. Some men who were interviewed reported that they saw their depression as a normal part of aging, rather than something that could be medically helped, according to Hinton. Many of the men were dealing with family problems or grieving the loss of a loved one and did not think they needed help.

Stigma may also play a factor.

“Older men who are suffering from depression may experience barriers to seeking help because they experience depression as getting in the way of their masculinity,” Hinton said. “Some men may be unable to accept the diagnosis because they might consider it unmanly.”

Many men who were depressed and getting treatment were not getting better, added Hinton. Of the Mexican-Americans who were receiving depression treatment within a year of the study, 20 percent still had very significant levels of symptoms.

“The policy implication for older Latinos is that we find ways to better engage them in treatment but also improving the quality of depression care,” Hinton said. “Depression treatment is not without its cost -- both economically and socially -- so we have to make it worthwhile.”

Soni Sangha is a freelance writer based in New York City.

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