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Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2009 Jan 19;5:2. doi: 10.1186/1745-0179-5-2.

Determinants of mental health service use in the national mental health survey of the elderly in Singapore.

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  • 1Gerontological Research Programme, Faculty of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore. pcmngtp@nus.edu.sg.



Despite high prevalence of mental health problems, only a minority of elderly people seek treatment. Although need-for-care factors are primary determinants of mental health service use, personal predisposing or enabling factors including health beliefs are important but are not well studied.


In the National Mental Health Survey of Elderly in Singapore, 2003, 1092 older adults aged 60 and above were interviewed for diagnosis of mental disorders (using Geriatric Mental State) and treatment, and their health beliefs about the curability of mental illness, embarrassment and stigma, easiness discussing mental problems, effectiveness and safety of treatment and trust in professionals.


The prevalence of mental disorders was 13%, but only a third of mentally ill respondents had sought treatment. Increased likelihood of seeking treatment was significantly associated with the presence of a mental disorder (OR = 5.27), disability from mental illness (OR = 79.9), and poor or fair self-rated mental health (OR = 2.63), female gender (OR = 2.25), and formal education (OR = 2.40). The likelihood of treatment seeking was lower in those reporting financial limitations for medical care (OR = 0.38), but also higher household income (OR = 0.31). Negative beliefs showed no meaningful associations, but the positive belief that 'to a great extent mental illness can be cured' was associated with increased mental health service use (OR = 6.89). The availability of family caregiver showed a negative association (OR = 0.20).


The determinants of mental health service use in the elderly included primary need factors, and female gender and socioeconomic factors. There was little evidence of influences by negative health beliefs, but a positive health belief that 'mental illness can be cured' is a strongly positive determinant The influence of family members and care-givers on senior's use of mental health service should be further explored.

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