Nearly 20 percent of older adults have one or more mental-health conditions. The mental-health needs of older adults can be especially complex due to co-occurring physical health problems that contribute to a compromised quality of life.
Late-life depression is associated with a wide array of adverse consequences, including psychological suffering, impairment in physical functioning, and increased mortality. Similarly, late-life anxiety is associated with significant impairment in social, family, and occupational functioning, poor perceived emotional and physical health and well-being, and low satisfaction with daily life.
Chronic mental and physical illnesses can be especially burdensome for older racial or ethnic minority adults who are disproportionately exposed to poverty and lower education, which are widely recognized as critical risk factors for both psychological distress and mental illness.
While impediments to strategies that help alleviate the burden of depression and anxiety exist for all older adults, they are even more pronounced for older adults of color who tend to have fewer socioeconomic resources and, therefore, receive less help and care from the mental-health system. Furthermore, even when they seek treatment, older adults of color are less likely to receive adequate mental-health care and tend to drop out of treatment early.
As well, older racial/ethnic minority adults experience a disproportionate burden of health-risk factors such as obesity and diabetes. They are also more likely to be sedentary and not as actively engaged in pursuing changes in their physical activity.
Despite these negative circumstances, the sky is not failing. There are very good, safe, and effective treatments available to help older racial/ethnic minority adults who are suffering from depression and anxiety. Psychotherapy and medications are the gold standard treatments, but these treatments can be difficult to access and are expensive, and highly stigmatizing.
There is new and exciting research regarding health promotion as a way to treat depression and anxiety. Health-promotion strategies are those that use counseling strategies to equip participants with the necessary knowledge and skills to modify and sustain a healthy diet, increased physical activity, and/or improved sleep.
By treating mental-health problems through health and wellness, we are addressing the multiple mental- and physical-health disparities experienced by minorities. Such an approach could appeal to individuals who have limited access to mental-health treatment. It could also be an alternative for those who are who are worried about prescription side effects or are uncomfortable talking to a mental-health specialist.
Danny Jimenez, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. For more information, visit umiamihealth.org/treatments-services/psychiatry or call 305-355-9028.