GPs missing depression diagnosis in men

31 Mar 2021
GPs missing depression diagnosis in men

A new study led by researchers from SAHMRI, the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing (FCMHW), University of Adelaide, Flinders University, and the CSIRO has examined the impact of depression on men’s use of health services.

The study published in the open access version of the British Medical Journal monitored the health service use habits of 1500 Australian men aged 35 to 80, over a five-year period.

Principal Investigator of the MAILES cohort and Head of the Centre For Nutrition & Gastrointestinal Diseases at SAHMRI, Professor Gary Wittert, says that contrary to public perception, the study shows most men do go to the doctor.

“Around 90 percent of the men we studied went to see their GP at least once in the year they were surveyed,” Professor Wittert said.

Results of the study also showed that 46% of men with a high burden of depression symptoms went to their GP five or more times a year, compared with only 29% of those with minimal symptoms. Despite this attendance, only half of the men with a high burden of symptoms received a diagnosis of depression.

“You’d expect men with more obvious symptoms of depression to have a higher rate of diagnosis, but after taking into account other factors including comorbidities, age and medications that can influence these results, we found that just wasn’t the case,” Prof Wittert said.

Clinical psychologist and joint author, Dr Ian Zajac from CSIRO says the issue is multifaceted and complex.

“On one hand, GPs may not be recognising symptoms or even asking the right questions. However, it’s also true that many men describe their experience of depression using different terms than women, meaning it’s possible to misunderstand their symptoms as potentially due to some other issue,” Dr Zajac said.

Lead author, Dr Sean Martin says the study also shows those with undiagnosed depression incur significantly more health care costs relating to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) compared to those with diagnosed depression and those who are not depressed.

“Men with undiagnosed depression are spending an average of $872 per year on Medicare and $742 on the PBS,” Dr Martin said.

“This demonstrates that failure to diagnose depression results in a higher financial cost to the community in addition to the personal cost to individuals.”

The Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing, based at SAHMRI, is translating these findings into a program of work aimed at better understanding and identifying male-type depression.

The FCMHW is now calling on state and federal governments and other organisations to join the effort to improve mental health outcomes for men.