News

Male Italian-born immigrants more prone to depression


3 February 2010

Older male Italian immigrants are almost twice as likely to suffer from depression as their Australian-born counterparts, researchers from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health have found.

Their findings, published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, conclude the higher rate of depression among Italian-born Australian men aged over 70 is due in large part to a greater reliance on the government pension and different perceptions of social support networks.

The results point to a potentially major health issue for older Italian immigrants, currently a growing part of Australia's ageing population.

The paper Depressive symptoms in older male Italian immigrants in Australia: the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project is part of a wider epidemiological study of Australian men aged over 70. Eighteen per cent of Italian-born participants in the study suffered clinically significant depressive symptoms, compared with a prevalence of 10 per cent among Australian-born men.

"It seems the Italian immigrants in our study tended to report more depressive symptoms in their lives due to a combination of socio-economic and cultural factors," says lead researcher Dr Fiona Stanaway.

"One major factor is this cohort's increased reliance on the government pension. Older immigrants from non-English speaking countries are less likely to have superannuation and low income is a risk factor for depression in older people.

"A different cultural perception of social support also seems to have a bearing on depression. Although the Italian-born cohort in our study is less likely to live alone, many in the group would have grown up in small rural communities where contact with extended family was constant.

"So they perhaps have a different expectation of what warrants sufficient support, with phone calls, weekly visits and trips to the shop not quite measuring up. However, it is also possible their perceptions of family support are affected by their depressed mood."

Dr Stanaway says the study highlights the need for increased awareness of the mental health needs of ageing immigrants from non-English speaking countries.

"Given the ageing of the population generally, and the ensuing pressures on health spending as highlighted by the government's intergenerational report, our findings may indicate a need to increase awareness of depression among non-English speaking older men and the provision of culturally appropriate mental health services."


Contact: Jocelyn Prasad

Phone: 02 9114 1382 or 0450 202 078