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Getting Better with Age: Most Older Adults Feel Positive About Their Mental Health

     

According to new research published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, most older adults are feeling good about their mental health. The research is based on nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 adults aged 50-80, which found that 80% said their mental health was as good or better than it was 20 years ago.

The authors point out that worsening mental health is not a normal part of aging and suggest that “resilience, wisdom, and life experience may help contribute to perceived improved mental health in the face of stressors with age.” 

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Breaking down the age group further, the oldest (age 70-80) among these older adults were more likely to report better mental than the younger (age 50-59). The study also found that most older adults were comfortable (87%) discussing their mental health. Older adults most often preferred to discuss these concerns with their primary care provider (30.6%), followed by mental health professionals (25%), spouse/partner (25%), and other family/friends (11%).

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Description automatically generated with medium confidenceMost older adults said they would not hesitate to seek mental health treatment in the future, however, nearly three in 10 older adults reported some hesitation about doing so.  “While public attitudes have grown more favorable toward psychotropic medications, and older adults have become more open to mental health treatment, the results of the survey suggest barriers and stigma to engaging in treatment still remain … stigma may still be a barrier limiting treatment engagement among some older adults in need,” the authors note.

The study also found that those with poor physical health were more likely to have worse mental health and more likely to have discomfort discussing mental health concerns. The authors suggest it may be useful to discuss mental health in relation to potentially improving quality of life and to support mental health treatment services within primary care.  

Another study of older adults and mental health looked at ethnic and racial differences in reasons for not seeking treatment and for ending treatment. They found that among adults age 55 and older, Asian and Pacific Islanders were significantly more likely to say they feel uncomfortable talking to a professional than whites and significantly more likely to say they were concerned about someone finding out they were having a mental health problem than whites were. This finding is similar to previous research showing high levels of mental health stigma among Asian adults. The Asian and Pacific Islander older adults also identified lack of insurance as a reason for stopping treatment.

Hispanic older adults were more likely to feel uncomfortable talking to a professional than whites and more likely than whites to report difficulty obtaining an appointment. Hispanic respondents were less likely than white respondents to report lack of time and lack of insurance coverage as a reason for no longer receiving treatment.

Black older adults were significantly more likely to say they were concerned about someone finding than whites were, which, the authors note, may result from cultural stigma toward mental health and the lack of Black mental health professionals. Black respondents were less likely than whites to report not getting better as a reason for no longer receiving treatment. 

The authors conclude that “perhaps the greatest need that this study illustrates is for healthcare providers to be trained to provide culturally competent mental health care for older minority adults, improving access to mental health services.”

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