Despite some evidence that neuroleptic medication is overused or misused in long-term care facilities for the elderly, there has been virtually no attention paid to the pattern of use of antidepressants in these facilities. All patients in long-term care in a geriatric hospital and a home for the aged who were receiving antidepressants were identified; 10.5% of the patients in the hospital and 12.7% in the home for the aged were receiving an antidepressant. The rate of use of antidepressants on the different units ranged from 0% to 26.8%. The most commonly prescribed antidepressant was doxepin followed by nortriptyline. The mean dose of antidepressant was 34.8 mg. Although depression was the most common reason for the prescription of an antidepressant (69% of patients receiving one), other reasons included pain, agitation, aggression, and insomnia. Patients had been receiving antidepressants for up to 10 years, with a mean duration of 32 months. The majority of patients (60%) had a history of depression predating their institutional admission. Patients receiving antidepressants were compared to a group not receiving antidepressants, who were matched for age, sex, unit, and attending physician. Patients receiving antidepressants were more likely to have a history of stroke (33.8% versus 16.9%). There was no significant difference between the two groups regarding the prevalence of dementia, Parkinson's disease, thyroid disease, malignant tumor, congestive heart failure, or diabetes mellitus. Prospective studies are required to determine the efficacy of antidepressants in this population and to identify factors that can predict a positive response to treatment.