Original Articles

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 77-85

First online:

Medication management of depression in the United States and Ontario

  • Steven J. KatzAffiliated withthe Departments of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan
  • , Ronald C. KesslerAffiliated withDepartment of Health Care Policy, Harvard University
  • , Elizabeth LinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, University of TorontoHealth Systems Research Unit, The Clarke Institute of Psychiatry
  • , Kenneth B. WellsAffiliated withDepartments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and School of Medicine

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OBJECTIVE: To compare rates of contact for mental problems and receipt of appropriate antidepressant medication management for persons in the general population with major depression in the United States and Ontario, Canada.

DESIGN: Survey using the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey and the Mental Health Supplement of the Ontario Health Survey.

PARTICIPANTS: All persons with major depression as described in DSM-III-R in the previous 12 months, from a multistage random sample of persons aged 21 to 54 years living in households in the United States (n=574) and Ontario (n=250) in 1990.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Self-reported contact with general medical or mental health specialty providers for mental problems and appropriate medication management, defined as a combination of antidepressant medication use and four or more visits to any provider within the previous 12 months, were the main outcome measures. The proportion of depressed persons receiving appropriate management was lower in the United States than in Ontario (7.3% vs 14.9% in Ontario, adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 95% CI 0.4; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.2, 0.8). This difference was largely the result of fewer Americans than Canadians having any mental health care from general medical physicians (9.6% in the United States vs 25.8% in Ontario; AOR 0.3; 95% CI 0.1, 0.5) rather than from specialty providers (20.8% in the United States vs 28.9% in Ontario; AOR 0.7; 95% CI 0.4, 1.1). These between-country differences were much greater for the poor than for those with higher incomes. The Ontario-United States AOR of making contact with either type of clinical provider was 7.5 (95% CI 2.7, 20.7) for lowest-income persons but 2.1 (95% CI 0.3, 5.6) for highest-income persons. The proportions of depressed recipients of any mental health care who received appropriate management were similar between countries (23.9% in the United States vs 27.7% in Ontario; AOR 0.8; 95% CI 0.3, 1.7).

CONCLUSIONS: Most persons with depression in the United States and Ontario do not receive appropriate medication management. The rate of appropriate medication management in the United States relative to Ontario is lower largely because there is less contact with general medical physicians for mental problems, especially for the poor. Economic barriers, rather than knowledge and attitudinal factors, appear to explain this difference.

Key words

mental health medication management major depression