Many older adults with mental health problems do not believe they need help

Research Activities, April 2010, No. 356

Mental health problems, including alcohol and substance abuse, are common in older adults. Yet only half of these individuals actively seek treatment and use mental health services. A new study has found that many older adults with mental health problems don't feel the need for treatment. Those who do perceive the need for care tend to have more symptoms of depression and other chronic health conditions.

The researchers collected data from a national sample of 1,339 individuals 65 years of age and older living in the community. Their ethnicity and gender matched that found in the general population. When a person was identified as receiving mental health care in the past 12 months, they were asked if they sought out the care voluntarily. Those who had not sought out care were asked if they felt a need to seek out treatment for an emotional or substance abuse issue. The researchers determined the prevalence and severity of depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse in the sample. Participants were also asked if they had certain health conditions to determine the levels of physical health and cognitive functioning.

Only 7.3 percent of the entire sample perceived a need for mental health care during the past year. Among those who did feel a need, 82.8 percent received services voluntarily from either a primary care or mental health specialist. Another 17.2 percent perceived a need for mental health care but did not receive care. Those older adults most likely to feel a need for care tended to have more severe mental illness. They also had histories of depression, anxiety, chronic physical illness, and alcohol abuse. Perceived need for care was less likely as age increased. Men were half as likely as women to report perceived need for care. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00036).

See "Perceived need for mental health care among community-dwelling older adults," by Melissa M. Garrido, Ph.D., Robert L. Kane, M.D., Merrie Kaas, D.N.Sc., R.N., C.S., and Rosalie A. Kane, Ph.D., in the November 2009 Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences 64(6), pp. 704-712.

Current as of April 2010
Internet Citation: Many older adults with mental health problems do not believe they need help: Research Activities, April 2010, No. 356. April 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/apr10/0410RA31.html