Caring for depressed and suicidal older patients: a survey of physicians and nurse practitioners

Int J Psychiatry Med. 2000;30(2):111-25. doi: 10.2190/0X22-57WN-9K3R-KVXM.


Objective: This study sought to describe patterns of mental health care for depressed and suicidal geriatric patients by primary care physicians (MDs) and nurse practitioners (NPs).

Methods: A probability sample of 300 Illinois MDs from the AMA Physician Masterfile and a national sample of 595 NPs from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners were surveyed. Sixty-three percent of MDs and 61 percent of NPs responded regarding their approaches to assessing, treating, and referring older adult patients who were depressed or suicidal. Respondents rated their confidence in assessing and treating depression and suicidality and identified barriers to mental health treatment in a primary care setting.

Results: Both similarities and differences were found among MDs and NPs in their patterns of managing depressed and suicidal older adults. NPs used more varied approaches in assessing, treating, and referring their geriatric patients with mental health problems. MDs relied more heavily on psychotropic medications for the treatment of depression and on psychiatrists when referring suicidal older patients. NPs were more likely than MDs to note lack of training and referral resources as barriers to treating depression of older patients. NPs rated their training in geriatric mental health more favorably than MDs.

Conclusions: In terms of assessment of depression, preferred treatment approaches, the use of referral resources, and perceived barriers to mental health care, there appears to be a greater orientation towards a psychosocial approach among NPs. Primary care MDs and NPs often have different perspectives that in combination could enhance the mental health care of geriatric patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Depression* / diagnosis
  • Depression* / therapy
  • Disease Management
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Geriatrics*
  • Humans
  • Illinois
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires