Objective: To compare mental health treatment history and preferences in older and younger primary care patients.
Method: We surveyed 77 older (60+) and 312 younger adult primary care patients from four outpatient medical clinics about their mental health treatment history and preferences.
Results: Older adults were less likely than younger adults to report a history of mental health treatment (29% vs. 51%) or to be currently receiving treatment (11% vs. 23%). They were also less likely to indicate that they currently desire help with emotional problems (25% vs. 50%). Older adults were more likely to hold a belief in self-reliance that could limit their willingness to accept treatment for mental health problems, although they were less likely than younger adults to identify other barriers to treatment. Older adults reported that they were less likely to attend programs in primary care targeting mental health issues (counseling, stress management) than younger adults, although they were as willing as younger adults to attend programs targeting physical health issues (healthy living class, fitness program). Age remained a significant predictor of mental health treatment history and preferences even after controlling for other demographic variables.
Conclusion: These results suggest that older adults in the primary care setting may be less willing to accept mental health services than younger adults. Results further suggest that perceived barriers may differ for older and younger patients, which may indicate the need for age-specific educational messages and services targeted to older adults in primary care.