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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 6/22/2012

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Campaign on Late-life Depression
Bethesda, Maryland

Start Date

Brief Description
The Campaign on Late-life Depression was developed in 2006 by the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. The campaign's goal is to raise awareness of late-life depression among consumers, their family members, and health care providers by encouraging individuals with late-life depression to seek treatment.

While much of the mystery and negative attitudes around depression in younger adults have been addressed by the media, celebrity revelations, mental health awareness groups, and pharmaceutical companies, the myth that depression is a natural part of aging lives on in today's society. According to a poll conducted by Mental Health America (December 2006), 59 percent of Americans said depression is a normal part of aging as contrasted with 10 years ago when 51 percent of Americans incorrectly believed this statement to be true. Even more disturbing from this poll is the fact that 31 percent of physicians incorrectly associated depression as a normal occurrence in the aging population.

Among older adults in the community, it is estimated that 25 percent have depressive symptoms and that depression is a great risk factor for suicide-which has the highest incidence rate in older males.

As the older adult cohort increases in size, it is critical to promote access to treatment for depression. Complications of untreated late-life depression result in poor quality of life, as well as increased mortality, suicide, significantly worse outcomes after a cardiovascular event as well as other cerebrovascular events.

The campaign has been divided into several phases.

During the first phase, stakeholders were identified for the campaign including older adults, their families and friends, and the health care providers that serve the target population. Multiple focus groups and one-on-one interviews were held with all of the stakeholders to assess their attitudes about late-life mental illness to find out how and where individuals obtain their health care information and to learn what kind of message would prompt them to get treatment for themselves and their loved ones.

Research obtained through these focus groups and interviews were used to develop clear-cut and consistent messages to implement a sustained awareness campaign about late-life mental illness. From these focus groups and interviews, it was clear that the campaign should focus on a disease that was undertreated and disproportionately impacted older adults. Depression was the disease mentioned most often by focus group participants. It is prevalent, but little is known about geriatric depression among consumers. There are no other national efforts on late-life depression. In addition, late-life depression is one of the greatest risk factors for the onset or complications from other health conditions that disproportionately impact the elderly.

During the next phase, the project commenced with the development of specific messages around late-life depression and again focus groups were convened to test those messages, print ads, and radio public service announcements. The campaign's goal was also defined during this phase and strategies were developed to implement the campaign.

The campaign's key message is: "Depression Kills, Treatment Works." Along with this key message, a campaign theme of "We're losing some of our greatest hearts and minds" was incorporated to illustrate the connection between mental and physical illnesses and to draw a connection between heart disease and depression.

The campaign was launched in October 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee and Baltimore, Maryland, as two representative U.S. cities that have a large aging cohort contain diverse populations and have resources for older adults with late-life depression. The campaign ran in the two cities through early 2008.

A key component of the campaign was to provide primary care physicians and other health care providers’ educational materials about late-life depression prior to the actual media releases to ensure that the anticipated increased demand in mental health services would be appropriately met. Primary care physicians and mental health community centers were sent information and given access to a screening tool on late-life depression to assist their treatment options for the families that seek assistance. In addition, geriatric psychiatrists in those areas are available to partner with the primary care community as resources for more complicated cases. This unique model is intended to not only raise awareness, but also provide an infrastructure for treatment.

Furthermore, national resources were made available through a toll-free number and Web site that provides in-depth information on late-life depression and local resources in the targeted areas.

Outcome measures have been defined to measure the impact of the campaign including:

  • Conducting a media audit immediately prior to the campaign and during the campaign to measure increased press coverage of the issue
  • Tracking the number of phone calls to a toll-free number and the number of visits to the campaign's Web site
  • Assessing the number of requests for follow-up information from the Foundation
  • Contacting and interviewing Association members to determine the campaign's impact, and
  • Analyzing the reach and frequency from the ad buys.

After the completion of the pilot program in early 2008, the Foundation will evaluated the successes, challenges, and impact of the campaign, along with its partners to begin to plan for a national campaign. The Campaign on Late-life Depression was taken national in 2010.

For more information on the campaign, contact Christine M. deVries, Executive Director of the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation at 301-654-7850, ext. 103 or via e-mail at


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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.