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The Foundation's Public Education Campaign on Late-Life Depression

The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation determined through targeted research-including focus groups-that there was a need to design a public education program on late-life depression.

Specifically, the Campaign was designed to:

  • alert older adults, and their families that late-life depression is a destructive, but treatable disease;
  • promote the need to treat depression just as one would any other illness, in this case relating the treatment of depression to heart disease, and
  • prompt older adults to seek help from a physician or other health care provider.

The Foundation's research showed that there was a great need for this kind of project, that there would be support from the medical and aging services communities, as well as the general public, and that the message should be straightforward, but hopeful.

To test the messages the Foundation developed on late-life depression as well as the means of delivering the message, the Foundation launched a pilot Campaign in two cities-Nashville, TN, and Baltimore, MD-in late 2007. In those two communities, the public saw two different ads in several local newspapers and heard a radio spot played thousands of times on numerous stations. The Foundation also reached out to 19,000 primary health care providers to offer information and resources prior to the launch of the public ads. In Nashville, members of the Foundation's team gave public talks to both older adult consumers and health care providers.

In the pilot Campaign, the Foundation had great reach in the two communities. Many local and state organizations joined in partnership with the Campaign and extended the Campaign's message long after the paid advertising ceased. Mental health and aging services community organizations were very eager for the resources developed by the Foundation as well as technical assistance specific to geriatric mental health issues. One of the lessons learned, however, was the difficulty in engaging the health care provider community. Despite mailings and other communication attempts, there was little response from the physician community. This experience was in direct contrast with the response from the consumer community.

The Foundation's pilot Campaign was a success, reaching members of the community with an important message and, in the process, teaching the GMHF team important lessons about public outreach. Success was measured by general increased awareness of late-life depression, requests for materials, and interest expressed in the topic. The Campaign was unable to measure success by increased demand for health care services.

The GMHF is ready to identify "next steps" to extend the reach of the late-life depression Campaign beyond the pilot cities. The Foundation will develop a series of tools to assist local or state organizations to spearhead public education campaigns on late-life depression as well as provide technical assistance to those organizations. The Foundation plans to provide grants to local communities to promote awareness about late-life depression through several strategies including developing grassroots networks, promoting multi-media messages and public education, and forming community partnerships. The Foundation is currently focused on developing the "tools" as well as raising funds for this large project.

As the Foundation is working on bringing the late-life depression campaign to additional communities, it continues its other programs including expanding the library of mental health resources for consumers and working to ensure access to quality care for the next generation of older adults through a new Scholars Program.

See the GMHF's depression awareness campaign website at www.treatmenthelps.org.