Improving mental health outcomes for men

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A new study published in the open access version of the British Medical Journal, which monitored the health service use habits of 1500 Australian men aged 35 to 80 years, over a five-year period, has found that despite popular perception, most men do go to the doctor when needed.

However, while the study showed that men with a high burden of depression symptoms see their GP at least five times a year, only half of these men 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,” says Principal Investigator of the MAILES cohort, Professor Gary Wittert.

According to Dr Ian Zajac from CSIRO, a clinical psychologist and joint author of the study, the reason for this is multifaceted and complex.

“On one hand, GPs may not be recognising symptoms or even asking the right questions,” says Dr Zajac.

“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.”

These results have important implications as 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,” says Dr Martin.

“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 study was led by researchers from the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing (FCMHW), University of Adelaide, SAHMRI, Flinders University and the CSIRO.

The FCMHW, based at SAHMRI, is reportedly translating the study findings into a program of work aimed at better understanding and identifying male-type depression.

It is also calling on state and federal governments, and other organisations, to join the effort to improve mental health outcomes for men.

For more information and to read the research, visit: bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/3/e044893