Seniors Seeking Treatment for Depression Face Shortage of Geriatric Psychiatrists

Giorgio Perissinotto, Retired Professor of Linguistics
Depression is a terrible thing if you go through it. I feel a knot in my throat and a thumping in my chest, my heart; and just uncomfortable with the whole thought process; and physically I am anxious. I’m even anguished, I would say.

I was a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara for 40 years. All together 45 years of teaching. Here I am now, officially retired but not disengaged. I’m still engaged in my profession.

My depression is actually the result of a worsening progression of general pessimism, low self-esteem. People would say, ‘Are you crazy? You are well to do. You own a home in Santa Barbara. You have a very successful career.’

I retired at the top of the scale. But somehow, it doesn’t mean much to me because I don’t think it was good enough. I think I could have done more.

Craig Nelson, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry, UCSF
Depression is the most common psychiatric problem-mental health problem-that patients bring when they come to see a psychiatrist.

There’s a shortage of geriatric psychiatrists in California and across the nation.

Giorgio Perissinotto, Retired Professor of Linguistics
It’s very difficult actually to find a psychiatrist. Even to get an appointment, the first consultation. In Santa Barbara, of the three or four that I contacted, most said that I had to wait a year or more. That’s ridiculous.

Craig Nelson, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry, UCSF
The other problem is just geographic maldistribution of physicians, so in San Francisco and Los Angeles, you’re more likely to find specialists. In other areas of California, you may or may not.

Giorgio Perissinotto, Retired Professor of Linguistics
I do come from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. Most of the time I drive the whole 5 and a half hours by myself. And to find a psychiatrist that would also accept Medicare is also an uphill battle.

Craig Nelson, Director of Geriatric Psychiatry, UCSF
Medicare reimbursement is relatively low, and the number of older patients is increasingly dramatically. From 2010 to 2030 the numbers of patients over the age of 65 is thought to go from 40 million to 70 million.

And geriatric psychiatrists are going to need to be teachers for residents and medical students, so that they can learn as much about care for older patients as possible, because everyone is going to be taking care of older patients and we haven’t even talked about who takes care of patients with Dementia, which is going to be a huge problem over the next 20 years.

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