Promoting mental health in older adults



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Texas Tech University


The percentage of older Americans over age 65 is estimated to grow from 12% to at least 21% by 2050 (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2006). Given the projected growth rate, it is important for mental health professionals to understand factors and mechanisms that are involved in the process of optimal and successful aging in order to help older adults protect against the state of languishing and enhance the state of flourishing in later life. The current study employed two life-span perspectives, Erikson’s (1959, 1980) theory of ego-integrity versus despair and the Selection, Optimization, and Compensation (SOC) model (Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 1998), to examine the relations among personal growth initiative (PGI; Robitschek, 1998), self-discrepancy (Higgins, 1987), and ego-integrity (Erikson, 1959, 1980) have on Keyes’ (2002, 2003, 2005a, 2005b) multidimensional theoretical and operational definition of mental health.

The current study hypothesized that PGI and self-discrepancy predicted ego-integrity, which in turn predicted multidimensional mental health. The following predictions also were hypothesized: (1) PGI negatively predicts self-discrepancy, (2) physical health status negatively predicts self-discrepancy, and (3) age negatively predicts physical health status. Structural equation modeling analyses and model modifications were conducted on both the total sample and the women only group. Results revealed that self-discrepancy predicted mental health for both the total sample and the women only group. Partial mediation occurred between PGI and mental health for the total sample only and did so through the indirect effects of physical health status and self-discrepancy rather than through ego-integrity as the study had predicted. As for the women only group, PGI exerted a total effect on mental health. The final overall model accounted for a large amount of variance in mental health (75.1% for the total sample and 87% for the women only). The findings of this study found support for the SOC model and the ego-integrity versus despair theory. In sum, PGI appeared to be a desirable personality trait that is likely to promote physical and mental health in old age, and low self-discrepancy is predictive of greater mental health. Implications for geropsychology research and practice are discussed.



Personal growth, Successful aging, Mental health