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Racial/ethnic differences in serious psychological distress among older adults in California


G. Kim, PhD, Center for Mental Health and Aging, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA. E-mail:



This study examined racial/ethnic differences in the prevalence and correlates of past year serious psychological distress ([SPD] defined as having a score of 13 or higher on the K6 scale), as well as impairments caused by SPD among older adults in California.


Data drawn from the 2007 California Health Interview Survey, representing racially/ethnically diverse adults 65 years and older, were analyzed: Whites, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. Using weighted data, descriptive analyses for prevalence rates and logistic regression analyses were conducted.


The prevalence of past year SPD was significantly different across the five racial/ethnic groups (p = 0.000), with American Indians/Alaska Natives having the highest prevalence (18.2%) and Asians having the lowest prevalence (2.6%). Disability was significantly associated with prevalence of SPD in all five racial/ethnic groups (all ps < 0.05). Impairments caused by past year SPD did not significantly differ across the five racial/ethnic groups, but overall functional impairments caused by SPD were highest among Whites and lowest among Latinos. Racial/ethnic-specific correlates of past year SPD for Asians were lower educational attainment (OR = 0.71, 95% CI = 0.55–0.92) and for African Americans, a greater number of chronic diseases (OR = 2.35, 95% CI = 1.55–3.54).


Apparent racial/ethnic differences existed in the prevalence and correlates of past year SPD among older adults in California. The findings suggest that different disease burden caused by SPD may exist across diverse racial/ethnic elderly groups and highlight the need to develop race/ethnicity-specific intervention strategies. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.