A new study has found more than half the people in Ontario who reported they had major depression did not use physician-based mental health services in the following year.


“It’s concerning to us that many Ontarians with mental health needs are not accessing clinician-based care,” said Katherine Smith, the lead author and epidemiologist in the Centre for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael’s Hospital.


“Some people may seek non-medical types of support or care, such as clergy, alternative medicine, psychologists or social workers.  But we don’t know for sure, so the gap remains of concern.”


The study used OHIP data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. The findings appear in the journal Health.


A predictable one in four people undergo at one point in their lives from depression, which lessens quality of life, is linked with amplified disability and lower productivity at work.  More than twice as often as men women are diagnosed with depression.


Smith had set out to see whether gender plays a role in seeking mental health care.   As a general rule, about 10 per cent more than men women use mental health services, showing the fact they use health care services overall as much as than men.


More than half - 55.3 per cent - of people in Ontario with self-reported major depression had no contact with physicians for mental health reasons in the following year.  Additional research is needed to understand why, Smith said.


She said some ethnic groups may not be comfortable accessing physician-based mental health services or may prefer to use non-medical services. Stigma around mental illness may also deter some people, she said.


Men, as compared to women, have the tendency to delay seeing a doctor for minor mental health concerns, but will ask help as soon as a mental health problem reaches a definite threshold.


Among those with depression, she found the gender gap was small, only five percentage points.  Women were somewhat more likely than men to see a primary care provider for depression - 30.4 per cent vs. 24.6 per cent, except there was little gender difference in who sought specialty care, like from a psychiatrist.


Comparing to those people who could have had other mental health concerns without major depression, there was a significant gender difference: 21 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men had a mental health visit, a gender gap of 8 percentage points.