"we can't carry the weight of the whole world": Illness experiences among Peruvian older adults with symptoms of depression and anxiety

Oscar Flores-Flores, Alejandro Zevallos-Morales, Ivonne Carrión, Dalia Pawer, Lorena Rey, William Checkley, John R. Hurst, Trishul Siddharthan, Jose F. Parodi, Joseph J. Gallo, Suzanne L. Pollard

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    6 Scopus citations


    Background: Despite the high levels of depression and anxiety symptoms in old age, the use of mental health services in this population is low. Help-seeking behaviors are shaped by how an individual perceives and experiences their illness. The objective of this study was to characterize the illness experiences of Peruvian older adults with depression and anxiety symptoms in order to lay the foundation for tailored community-based mental health interventions. Methods: In this qualitative study, we conducted in-depth interviews with a purposively selected sample of older adults (≥ 60 years) from peri-urban areas of Lima, Peru. We included individuals with only depressive symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-9 ≥ 10), only anxiety symptoms (Beck Anxiety Inventory ≥ 16), with depressive and anxiety symptoms, and older adults who mentioned they had received mental health treatment/care. The interview guide included the following topics: perceptions and experiences about depression and anxiety; perceptions about the relationship between physical chronic diseases and mental health; experiences with mental health professionals and treatments, and coping mechanisms. Data collection was conducted between October 2018 and February 2019. Results: We interviewed 38 participants (23 women, 15 men) with a mean age of 67.9 years. Participants' ideas and perceptions of depression and anxiety showed considerable overlap. Participants attributed depression and anxiety mainly to familial and financial problems, loneliness, loss of independence and past traumatic experiences. Coping strategies used by older adults included 'self-reflection and adaptation' to circumstances, 'do your part', and seeking 'emotional support' mainly from non-professionals (relatives, friends, acquaintances, and religion). Conclusions: Illness experiences of depression and anxiety set the pathway for tailored community-based mental health interventions for older adults. Overlapping narratives and perceptions of depression and anxiety suggest that these conditions should be addressed together. Mental health interventions should incorporate addressing areas related to depression and anxiety such as prevention of loss of independence, trauma, and loneliness. Good acceptability of receiving emotional support for non-professionals might offer an opportunity to incorporate them when delivering mental health care to older adults.
    Original languageSpanish
    JournalInternational Journal of Mental Health Systems
    StatePublished - 10 Jul 2020

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