Reprinted from "Seniors' Mental Health" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 15, p. 7
Depression is one of the major mental health issues facing older adults in Canada. In general, close to ten per cent of those who are 65 years and older are affected by depression.1 Despite the cultural diversity in the Canadian population, research on mental health issues of older adults in visible minority groups is lacking. As the largest visible minority group in Canada, the 860,150 Chinese accounted for 27% of all the visible minorities in 1996. In Greater Vancouver, 49% of the visible minorities were Chinese. This group also accounted for 15% of the total Greater Vancouver population. Yet, research attention on the mental health issues faced by this population group, particularly the older adults, is very limited. As a major effort to bridge this knowledge gap, this article summarizes the findings about depression among a randomly selected sample of older Chinese adults (55 years and older) in the Greater Vancouver area.
These findings were based on the data obtained from a major research project — Health and Well Being of Chinese Seniors in Canada — that examined the relationship between culture and health of Chinese seniors in seven Canadian metropolitan areas including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal. The study examined a wide range of issues related to health status, health service use, and cultural health beliefs. In one of the sections of the study, depression levels of Chinese older adults were measured by a validated Chinese version of the Geriatric Depression Screening (GDS) scale.2
For the respondents in the Greater Vancouver area, 29% reported symptoms that indicated mild to severe levels of depression. Specifically, 23% of the respondents reported a mild level of depression while 5% reported a moderate to severe level of depression. No significant differences were reported in the prevalence rates between those who were under 65 and those who were older than 65. These prevalence rates were significantly higher than other Canadian sites in which this study was conducted. They were also higher than the combined rates of the seven cities in which only 15% reported a mild level of depression and 5% reported a moderate or severe level of depression.
What then are the implications of these findings? First of all, as pointed out earlier by the author,3 Chinese seniors are not free from mental health problems and concerns. The depression rates reported in the findings are much higher than the national estimate. These findings are congruent with the ones obtained in an earlier study by the author in Calgary3 in which the depression rates reported were also higher than the national estimate. Depression is a genuine and emerging issue faced by Chinese older adults. Contrary to the misconceptions that the Chinese are model healthy citizens without problems, older Chinese do have mental health needs similar to those of the general elderly population. However, is the existing mental health service delivery system ready to accommodate or fulfill these needs?
It is important for practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to re-orient themselves. Services for ethnic minority groups should no longer be at the fringe of the service delivery system. With the growing cultural diversity of the existing population, it is imperative that serving the needs of ethnic minority groups should be the utmost central theme of meeting the communities’ health needs. In addition, to enhance understanding of the cultural differences in mental health in ethnic minority populations, further research is desperately called for in this particular area.
About the authorDaniel is an Associate Professor with the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary
McEwan, K.L., Donnelly, M., Robertson, D., & Hertzman, C. (1991). Mental health problems among Canada’s seniors: Demographic and epidemiologic consideration. Ottawa: Mental Health Division, Health Services and Promotion Branch, Department of National Health and Welfare.
Mui, A.C. (1996). Geriatric Depression Scale as a community screening instrument for elderly Chinese immigrants. International Psychogeriatrics, 8(3), 445-458.
Lai, D.W.L. (2000). Depression among the elderly Chinese in Canada. Canadian Journal of Aging, 19(3), 409-429.