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Social Stigma Is Main Obstacle to Mental Treatment

Posted November. 01, 2008 03:02,   


Suffering from depression due to employment stress, a thirty-something man saw a psychiatrist and was prescribed an anti-depressant. When his condition got better after one month of treatment, he stopped taking the medicine for fear of his medical history having an adverse effect in landing a job.

Six months later, however, he had to seek treatment again due to his condition deteriorating.

More than half of depression patients stop treatment within a month, with a third suffering a relapse, according to a survey released yesterday.

The Dong-A Ilbo exclusively obtained a survey on depression patients’ medical treatment and its quality jointly conducted by the Health Insurance Review Agency and Baek Seung-woo, a neuropsychiatric professor at Kyung Hee University Medical Center.

According to the survey, 52.9 percent of depression patients stopped taking medicine without consultation from doctors within 30 days of receiving treatment.

The survey tracked 117,087 people aged 18 to 85 who were diagnosed with depression in 2002 and prescribed an anti-depressant at least once from 2002 to 2004.

Of those who stopped taking anti-depressants, 52.9 percent did so within 30 days of prescription, 68.2 percent within 60 days, 76.2 percent within 90 days, and 79.9 percent within 120 days. This means more than half of the patients stopped treatment within a month, and more than three-fourths did so within three months.

“The stoppage in treatment in Korea is three times higher than that in Europe. Depression can be cured without a relapse if a patient gets treatment for at least six months,” Baek said.

Reasons for the stoppage in treatment included social prejudice and disadvantages involved in mental treatment; the erroneous perceptions that an improved condition means a complete cure; and side effects from anti-depressants.

Among those who took anti-depressant continuously after suffering from depression for six months to two years, 17 percent experienced a relapse. The figure surged to 33 percent when they stopped medication in the middle of treatment.

A total of 151 attempted suicides were reported among those who stopped treatment, higher than among those who were on medication without cessation (40).

“Many depression patients stop treatment due to social prejudice. So the public perception of mental treatment must change,” said Baek.