California’s older adult population will increase 64 percent by 2035 and with it the need for more mental health services. Yet, the state’s public mental health system lacks adequate services specifically tailored to older adults, according to a study and other documents released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
Notably, the state has no systematic record of which local agencies used state mental health care funds to provide services for older adults or data to measure whether treatments worked. This is the state’s first evaluation of mental health services for adults 60 and older in the public mental health system. The study found that the mental health needs of older adults are often “lumped in” with those of all adults, although older adults’ needs can be very different based on their stage of life, says Janet Frank, adjunct associate professor of community health sciences and a faculty associate at the center.
As of 2014, the Mental Health Services Act of 2004 generated $13 billion to fund delivery of public mental health services, according to documents reviewed in the study. However, no money specifically is earmarked to develop a system of care for older adults. In contrast, children’s mental health programs do receive earmarked funding.
Mental health issues among older adults range from anxiety and depression to serious mental illness, and conditions can be complicated by dementia, the loss of thinking, remembering and reasoning skills that interfere with a person’s daily life. Most older adults receiving public mental health services have “aged into” the older adult category after receiving decades of mental health services, the study found. The authors say more information is needed about older adults who develop late-onset mental health problems and how they find their way to public mental health services. Today, less than one-third of all older adults in the U.S. who need mental health care receive it, the study reports.
To analyze how and whether older adults in the public health system received mental health services, researchers reviewed more than 100 publications and reports. They also conducted six focus groups and 72 interviews at the state level and across six counties representing designated mental health regions; California’s differences in geography, population size and density; ethnic and racial diversity; income level; and the range of programs being developed for older adult mental health care.
The study’s authors made the following recommendations to improve delivery of public mental health services to Californians who are 60 and older:
“Older Californians and the Mental Health Services Act: Is an Older Adult System of Care Supported?” UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, January 25, 2018.