The number of older people in the United States has more than doubled over the last 10 years.
In the 1990s, roughly 20% of all Americans over age 65 were diagnosed with a mental illness.
Today, that number is more than double.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.4 million Americans age 65 and older have a mental disorder.
That’s up from 1.2 million in 2013.
And, in addition to being more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, older adults are also more likely than younger adults to have trouble sleeping at night, and to experience symptoms of a depressive episode such as feeling hopeless, hopelessness and hopelessness.
“Depression and the elderly are so closely linked that it’s hard to imagine that the number of people in our country who are depressed is decreasing,” said Dr. Daniel Hamermesh, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and a psychiatrist at the Harvard University Hospitals and Clinics of Boston.
But there’s a catch.
The CDC has reported only a small percentage of older adults who suffer from a mental health disorder.
So while some researchers are predicting that the aging population will experience a slight increase in depression over the next decade, the exact rate of depression among those who are in that age group has been hard to pinpoint.
“The data is quite patchy,” said Hamermo, who also heads the National Institute of Mental Health’s Depression in the Elderly project.
“There are a lot of people who are doing well but there are people who have had depression for a long time.
There are lots of people with a lot to lose.”
The National Institute on Aging has reported that there were 1.8 million people over age 60 in the U.S. who were not receiving any benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is a government program that provides cash assistance to people struggling with basic expenses such as food, rent and medical care.
That makes it difficult to gauge whether people who do not qualify for SNAP benefits are at higher risk for depression or other mental health problems.
And the number is increasing.
According to the American Psychological Association, the number increased by 6.2% from 2011 to 2012, while the number among the general population declined by 3.6%.
Researchers are now working to identify whether there is a link between mental health and depression in the elderly.
In addition, researchers are looking at whether people with other conditions such as substance abuse, a history of substance use and history of suicide risk factors are at greater risk for developing depression or anxiety.
“People are always trying to figure out how much risk they are taking,” Hamerms said.
“We know it is an important risk factor for developing depressive or anxiety disorders in older adults, but it is difficult to determine how much that risk is.”
The Centers of Disease Control has also reported that nearly 3 million older adults were living in poverty, meaning that they earned less than $10,000 per year and needed help paying for food, clothing, rent, health care and other basic necessities.
That is about double the number in 2013 and has increased in the past 10 years, especially among younger Americans.
“What is striking about the increase in the prevalence of depression in seniors is that it is occurring among older people who previously were not living in a depressed state,” said Katherine A. Wohl, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston School of Public Health and the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Older Adults.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the increased number of depression diagnoses among older adults is a sign of rising depression prevalence among the population.”
While it’s impossible to say if the increase is a result of the aging of the population, the increased prevalence of anxiety and depression among older Americans is certainly concerning, said Dr (and former President) Mike Leavitt, who serves on the American Association of Retired Persons’s Advisory Council on Mental Health and Social Service Needs.
“It is particularly concerning to me that we have the burden of the nation’s aging on older Americans,” Leavitsaid.
“While we have been blessed with advances in technology and the use of computers, there is still an inability for people to connect and get help.”
The CDC estimates that more than one-quarter of people over the age of 65 have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, the most common of the mental health disorders.
There is also a large and growing body of evidence that suggests depression in those over the 70s and 80s is a much more common disease, but researchers aren’t sure if depression in younger people is as common as older people.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association looked at data from the National Epidemiology Program (NESP) of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that depression in adults aged 55 to 64 was more common among whites than blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.