Caring for mental illness in the United States: a focus on older adults

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2003 Sep-Oct;11(5):517-24.


Objective: The authors compared rates of common mental disorders and the use of primary care and specialty mental health services among younger and older adults.

Methods: They used data from 9,585 respondents to the HealthCare for Communities (HCC) Household Telephone Survey. Mental disorders during the past year, including depression, dysthymia, and generalized anxiety disorder, were identified with a short questionnaire. The survey also collected information about sociodemographic and insurance status, perceived need for mental health care, and use of health services.

Results: Older adults (age 65 and older) were significantly less likely than younger adults (18-29) or middle-aged adults (30-64) to meet diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder (8% versus 15% in each of the younger age-groups). Older adults who met diagnostic criteria for mental disorders were less likely to perceive a need for mental health care, to receive specialty mental health care or counseling, or to receive referrals from primary care to mental health specialty care than young or middle-aged adults.

Conclusion: Few older adults with mental disorders use mental health services, particularly specialty mental health services. The lack of perceived need for mental health care may contribute to low rates of mental health service use among older adults.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services for the Aged / standards
  • Health Services for the Aged / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / standards
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology