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J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009 Dec;57(12):2311-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2009.02573.x. Epub 2009 Nov 23.

Racial and ethnic differences in the mental health needs and access to care of older adults in california.

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Division of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care, Universityof California at Irvine, Irvine, California, USA.


Little is known about the unmet mental health needs of minority older adults. Racial and ethnic differences in the prevalence rates of psychological distress and reported need and use of mental health services were examined in a population-based sample of older adults using the 2005 California Health Interview Survey. The sample comprised 16,974 people aged 55 and older, with 13,974 non-Hispanic whites, 719 African Americans, 1,215 Asians, and 1,066 Latinos. Respondents were compared in terms of prevalence of symptoms of mental distress and serious mental illness, reported need for help, and access to mental health services. African Americans, Asians, and Latinos were more likely to have mental distress than whites (21.2-24.2% vs 14.4%, P<.001) and a higher prevalence of serious mental illness (4.1-7.7% vs 2.5%, P<.001). After adjustment for age, sex, birthplace, marital status, education, limited English proficiency, chronic health conditions, and insurance status, older African-American (adjusted odds ratio (aOR)=1.37, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.04-1.81) and Asian (aOR=1.50, CI=1.13-2.00) adults still had greater odds of mental distress than whites. Furthermore, all three groups had worse access to mental health services than whites (African American aOR=0.64, 95% CI=0.43-0.96; Asian aOR=0.32, CI=0.16-0.63; Latino aOR=0.35, CI=0.17-0.70). Clinicians caring for older individuals should be aware of their high risk for mental health needs. Given that minorities' access to mental health services is worse than whites', even after adjusting for health insurance status, providing insurance alone will not eliminate this disparity. Innovative clinical and systemic strategies are needed to better identify individuals at risk and to provide needed services.

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