The relationship of education, psychiatric diagnoses, and use of psychotropic medication has been explored in the United States, but little is known about this relationship in poorer countries, despite the high burden of mental illness in these countries. This study estimated educational gradients in diagnosis and psychotropic drug use in the United States and Costa Rica, a middle-income country with universal health insurance.
Analyses were conducted by using data of older adults (≥60) from the 2005 U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (N=4,788) and the 2005 Costa Rican Longevity and Healthy Aging Study (N=2,827). Logistic regressions examined the effect of education level (low, medium, or high) and urban residence on the rates of self-reported mental health diagnoses, screening diagnosis, and psychotropic medication use with and without an associated psychiatric diagnosis.
Rates of self-reported diagnoses were lower in the United States (12%) than in Costa Rica (20%), possibly reflecting differences in survey wording. In both countries, the odds of having depression were significantly lower among persons with high education. In Costa Rica, use of psychotropic medication among persons with self-reported diagnoses increased by education level.
The educational gradients in medication use were different in the United States and Costa Rica, and stigma and access to care in these countries may play an important role in these differences, although type of insurance did not affect educational gradients in the United States. These analyses increase the evidence of the role of education in use of the health care system.