Research Activities April 2013, No. 392

Mental illness is common and left untreated in older public housing residents

Disparities/Minority Health

Most residents of public housing are low-income minorities, who can experience a variety of disparities in health care, including mental health services. A new study reveals that mental illness is common and largely untreated in older adult public housing residents, with nearly a third of public housing residents in need of mental health services. Researchers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry studied 190 residents of public housing who were 60 years of age and older. The majority (80 percent) were black and more than half (58 percent) were women. Most of the residents (92 percent) lived alone. After being recruited by questionnaires, residents participated in a 1.5-hour psychiatric research interview. They were assessed for anxiety and depression as well as need for mental health treatment. The researchers also looked at actual services received.

Among the participating residents, 21 percent suffered from anxiety and 15 percent from depression. Overall, 31 percent of residents were deemed to be in need of mental health services. However, less than half (46 percent) of those with a mental health care need were receiving treatment. Residents with these needs tended to be younger, had less cognitive impairment, suffered from more medical conditions, and were less mobile compared to those without a need. They also used more medical care and required other services, such as transportation assistance. Public housing residents receiving mental health care were more likely to be women, use an onsite social worker, and have more medical conditions compared to residents not receiving these services. Since public housing residents already have many risk factors for anxiety and depression, more community-based interventions are needed to provide a safety net for this vulnerable population, suggest the researchers. Their study was supported in part by AHRQ (HS18246).

See "Mental healthcare need and service utilization in older adults living in public housing," by Adam Simning, B.A., Edwin van Wijngaarden, Ph.D., Susan G. Fisher, M.S., Ph.D., and others in the May 2012 American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 20(5), pp. 441-451.


Page last reviewed April 2013
Page originally created April 2013
Internet Citation: Mental illness is common and left untreated in older public housing residents. Content last reviewed April 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.