Mid-Life Mental Health Issues: Underreported

mental healthResearchers from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath have discovered that assessment methods that have relied on a person’s recall of events may have led to an underestimate of mental health conditions.[1] Therefore, there has been a miscalculation of the prevalence of mental disorders among middle-aged and older adults.1 However, researchers believe that the stigma surrounding mental illness, along with the intermittent course of many disorders and the challenge in defining and measuring mental health issues may have all contributed to the reporting variance.1

Associate Professor and Senior Author of the study, Ramin Mojtabai, M.D., Ph.D., MPH, MA, said “The takeaway is that lifetime estimates based on participant recall in cross-sectional surveys underestimate the occurrences of mental disorders over the lifetime.”1

This study has been the first to examine retrospective evaluations versus cumulative assessments among older adults.1 Previous studies of adolescents and young adults have also found discrepancies in those age groups.1

Mojtabai and colleagues based their study on interviews in 2004 and 2005 with 1,071 adults who had participated in the Baltimore Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey since the early 1980s.1 When asked to provide retrospective evaluations in six categories—depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and alcohol/drug abuse—participants often underreported their disorders, even though they had reported them one or more times in three previous assessments.1 When the same evaluations were completed by the same participants on diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, stroke, and cancer, only one out of 10 underreported that they had previously had diabetes.1

Majtabai said, “Stigma associated with mental disorders, as well as the fluctuating course of mental illness, might partly explain the discrepancies, as well as the differences in the ages of onset of mental and physical disorders. Mental disorders start earlier and have a high prevalence in early to mid-life, whereas physical disorders are typically illnesses of middle to older age and tend to be chronic.”1

[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Mid-Life Mental Health Issues May Be More Common than Reported. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 9, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/01/09/mid-life-mental-health-issues-may-be-more-common-than-reported/64271.html

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