Study finds discrepancies in prevalence estimates of mental disorders in middle-aged and older adults

Published on January 9, 2014 at 1:03 AM · No Comments

The study found that the lifetime estimates of mental disorders ascertained by retrospective versus cumulative evaluations were 4.5% versus 13.1% for major depressive disorder; 0.6% versus 7.1% for obsessive-compulsive disorder, 2.5% versus 6.7% for panic disorder, 12.6% versus 25.3% for social phobia, 9.1% versus 25.9% for alcohol abuse or dependence, and 6.7% versus 17.6% for drug abuse or dependence.

In contrast, the estimates of physical disorders measured by retrospective versus cumulative evaluations were 18.2% versus 20.2% for diabetes, 48.4% versus 55.4% for hypertension, 45.8% versus 54.0% for arthritis, 5.5% versus 7.2% for stroke, and 8.4% versus 10.5% for cancer.

Dr. Mojtabai explained that the contrast between the recall of mental and physical disorders is noteworthy and may be attributable to differences in age at onset and the course of these disorders. "Stigma associated with mental disorders, as well as the fluctuating course of mental illnesses, might partly explain the discrepancies, as well as differences in ages of onset of mental and physical disorders. Mental disorders start earlier and have a higher prevalence in early to mid-life, whereas physical disorders are typically illnesses of middle and older age and tend to be chronic."

The authors noted that measurement issues might also help explain the differences in recall of mental and physical illnesses. Ascertainment of mental disorders was based on symptom criteria, while ascertainment of physical illnesses was based on the participant's report of presence versus absence of a particular physical disorder.

Source: Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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