For older Americans, depression varies by ethnicity

MICHIGAN STATE / U. MICHIGAN (US) —Senior citizens who are white or black of Caribbean descent experience much higher rates of major depression than African-American seniors, a new study finds.

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Taken as a whole, the findings suggest major depression among older people is worse than many believe and has serious implications as the massive baby boomer generation ages, says Amanda Toler Woodward, associate professor of social work at Michigan State University.

“It is clear that major depression is a significant public health issue among older people,” she says.

Published in the journal Anxiety and Depression, the study examined the rates of major depression among three ethnic groups—whites, African Americans, and black Caribbeans.

Specifically, the researchers found:

  • About 24 percent of whites aged 50 and older experienced major depressive symptoms at least once during their lifetime, and 9 percent experienced major depression in the previous 12 months.
  • About 17 percent of older African Americans experienced major depression during their lifetime, with 7 percent experiencing major depression in the previous 12 months.
  • About 23 percent of older black Caribbeans experienced major depression during their lifetime, and 15 percent experienced major depressive symptoms in the previous 12 months.

While the study didn’t measure why black Caribbeans had significantly higher rates of major depression than African Americans, Woodward says it may have to do with negative experiences related to immigration such as being separated from family and friends and adapting to US culture.

The number of black Caribbean immigrants in the United States has doubled in the past decade, to more than 3 million.

“This data shows that black Caribbeans and African Americans are not as similar as one may think, and when we’re thinking about diagnoses and treatment we shouldn’t lump them together,” Woodward says.

Older black men of Caribbean descent reported much higher rates of major depression than older black women of Caribbean descent. The runs counter to the other ethnic groups—whites and African Americans—which saw women report higher rates of major depression.

Researchers from the University of Michigan were co-authors on the study.

Source: Michigan State University