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With a little help from my friends?: racial and gender differences in the role of social support in later-life depression medication adherence

  • Lauren B. Gerlach (a1), Janet Kavanagh (a1), Daphne Watkins (a2), Claire Chiang (a1), Hyungjin M. Kim (a3) and Helen C. Kales (a1)...



Social support has been shown to be an important factor in improving depression symptom outcomes, yet less is known regarding its impact on antidepressant medication adherence. This study sought to evaluate the role of perceived social support on adherence to new antidepressant medication prescriptions in later-life depression.


Data from two prospective observational studies of participants ≥60 years old, diagnosed with depression, and recently prescribed a new antidepressant (N = 452). Perceived social support was measured using a subscale of the Duke Social Support Index and medication adherence was assessed using a validated self-report measure.


At four-month follow up, 68% of patients reported that they were adherent to antidepressant medication. Examining the overall sample, logistic regression analysis demonstrated no significant relationship between perceived social support and medication adherence. However, when stratifying the sample by social support, race, and gender, adherence significantly differed by race and gender in those with inadequate social support: Among those with low social support, African-American females were significantly less likely to adhere to depression treatment than white females (OR = 4.82, 95% CI = 1.14–20.28, p = 0.032) and white males (OR = 3.50, 95% CI = 1.03–11.92, p = 0.045).


There is a significant difference in antidepressant medication adherence by race and gender in those with inadequate social support. Tailored treatment interventions for low social support should be sensitive to racial and gender differences.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Lauren B. Gerlach, DO, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, 4250 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA. Phone: +734-764-0231; Fax: 734-647-8535. Email:


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