There is significantly less chance of older veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide when they resist negative age stereotypes, a new nationally representative study by the Yale School of Public Health has found.
Researchers surveyed 2,031 American veterans aged 55 and older and found that among veterans with more positive attitudes toward aging, 2 percent had post-traumatic stress disorder (compared to 19 percent of those with more negative attitudes toward aging); 5 percent had suicidal thoughts (compared to 30 percent of those with more negative attitudes toward aging); and 4 percent had anxiety (compared with 35 percent of those with more negative attitudes toward aging).
“These results suggest that reducing the negative age stereotypes that are present in media, marketing, and everyday conversations could have mental health benefits,” said lead author Dr. Becca R. Levy, associate professor and director of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division.
There are more than nine million older veterans in the United States. This group is at greater risk of suicide than younger veterans and has higher rates of other psychiatric conditions. Dr. Levy said a possible explanation for this vulnerability is that she has found negative age stereotypes can generate stress in older individuals, and others have found that stress can contribute to the onset of later-life psychiatric conditions.
The study by Dr. Levy and her co-authors appears online and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Social Science & Medicine. It is believed to be the first study to show an association between age stereotypes and these psychiatric conditions.
Although the study focused on veterans, the findings may be generalizable to older people who have not served in the military. The association between resisting negative age stereotypes and lower rates of psychiatric conditions was found in veterans who had not experienced combat, as well as those who had.