Mental health treatment seeking among older adults with depression: the impact of stigma and race

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2010 Jun;18(6):531-43. doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181cc0366.


Objective: Stigma associated with mental illness continues to be a significant barrier to help seeking, leading to negative attitudes about mental health treatment and deterring individuals who need services from seeking care. This study examined the impact of public stigma (negative attitudes held by the public) and internalized stigma (negative attitudes held by stigmatized individuals about themselves) on racial differences in treatment-seeking attitudes and behaviors among older adults with depression.

Method: Random digit dialing was utilized to identify a representative sample of 248 African American and white older adults (older than 60 years) with depression (symptoms assessed by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9). Telephone-based surveys were conducted to assess their treatment-seeking attitudes and behaviors and the factors that impacted these behaviors.

Results: Depressed older adult participants endorsed a high level of public stigma and were not likely to be currently engaged in or did they intend to seek mental health treatment. Results also suggested that African American older adults were more likely to internalize stigma and endorsed less positive attitudes toward seeking mental health treatment than their white counterparts. Multiple regression analysis indicated that internalized stigma partially mediated the relationship between race and attitudes toward treatment.

Conclusion: Stigma associated with having a mental illness has a negative influence on attitudes and intentions toward seeking mental health services among older adults with depression, particularly African American elders. Interventions to target internalized stigma are needed to help engage this population in psychosocial mental health treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Stereotyping*
  • White People / psychology*