Correlates of perceived need for and use of mental health services by older adults in the collaborative psychiatric epidemiology surveys

Corey S Mackenzie, Jina Pagura, Jitender Sareen
American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2010, 18 (12): 1103-15

OBJECTIVES: Older adults are especially unlikely to seek mental health services, but little is known about whether their perceptions of need for help contribute to this problem. The objectives of this study were to compare perceived need across the lifespan and to examine sociodemographic and mental health correlates of whether older adults sought professional help, perceived the need for help without seeking it, and sought help from specialty mental health professionals.

METHODS: The authors examined help-seeking and perceived need with the Collaborative Psychiatric Epidemiology Surveys, focusing on 3,017 adults aged 55 years and older. Logistic regressions predicted help-seeking and perceived need from sociodemographic factors, past-year psychiatric disorders, and past-year suicidal behaviors. Individuals who perceived the need for help without receiving it also reported barriers to help-seeking.

RESULTS: Levels of perceived need were highest among 25-44 year olds and lowest among adults aged 65 years and older. Among older adults with psychiatric disorders, 47.1% did not perceive a need for professional help. Diagnoses and suicidal behaviors were strong predictors of whether individuals perceived need, whereas among those who perceived the need for help, only older age was positively associated with help-seeking. Few factors clearly distinguished those who did and did not seek help from specialty mental health professionals with the exception of having three or more psychiatric diagnoses. Finally, the most common barrier to help-seeking was a desire to handle problems on one's own.

CONCLUSIONS: A lack of perceived need for mental health services and self-sufficiency beliefs are significant barriers to older adults' use of mental health services.

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