Depression in Nursing Home Residents Can Be Treated

Moving to a nursing home can bring up many emotions that are hard to cope with, such as feelings of abandonment, loss, disorientation and frustration. It''s little wonder that more than half of nursing home residents suffer from depression, according to the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. However, most of these residents fail to receive the services they could benefit from, says the Medicare Rights Center.

Contrary to popular belief, the elderly can benefit from mental health services, and Medicare Part B covers 50 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for outpatient therapy services. The only catch is that the beneficiary may be required to leave the premises to obtain therapy, unless he finds a mental health provider willing to come to the nursing home.

The Medicare Rights Center offers the following guidelines to make sure a nursing home resident gets the mental health services she needs. The Center advises making the initial request in writing so that you can keep a record for your files.

  • Get in touch with the social services department.

  • Every nursing home resident is assigned a social worker. Find out the contact person and discuss any changes in behavior that you have observed in the resident; ask for a diagnostic consultation with an appropriate mental health professional.


  • Get in touch with the resident''s doctor.

  • A resident''s supervising physician may not spend enough time with him to notice changes in mood and behavior. Bring concerns to the doctor''s attention and request that the doctor recommend therapy and refer the resident to a specialist, if necessary. Be sure to mention any physical ailments, such as loss of appetite or unwillingness to move, that may be the result of mental health problems.


  • Request a care planning meeting.

  • If you don''t see progress, contact the nursing home administration to ask that all the professionals involved in the resident''s care reevaluate his needs. Some states mandate that nursing homes hold these meetings on a regular basis.


  • If you are still not satisfied, contact an ombudsman.

  • Long-term care ombudsmen advocate on behalf of residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. They monitor care and conditions, and can help resolve problems or file complaints. Nursing homes are required to post the phone number of the ombudsman in a visible and accessible location. Click on the link above to get the number for your state long-term care ombudsman.

For more information:

Medicare's brochure, Medicare and Your Mental Health Benefits, describes inpatient and outpatient mental health services covered by Medicare. Download it in PDF. (If you do not have the free PDF reader installed on your computer, get it online.)

Call the National Alliance on Mentally Illness's HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI for information, referrals and resources on mental health issues.