Published Nov. 19, 2021

Key Findings

  • Nearly 31 percent of seniors nationwide report experiencing symptoms of depression in recent weeks.

  • Nearly 43 percent of seniors in New Mexico have experienced recent depression.

  • The states with the sharpest increase in depression among seniors are Vermont, Kentucky and Rhode Island.

  • Rhode Island is home to the highest percentage of seniors who say they aren’t receiving the mental health services they need. 

Study Overview

Retirement is often associated with a time of happiness and relaxation. But in fact, the aging process spurs cases of depression for millions of older U.S. adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "We know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose function becomes limited."

Nationwide, nearly 31 percent of adults aged 60 and older reported feeling depressed for either “several days,” “more than half the days” or “nearly every day” during the period from September 29 through October 11, 2021. That’s according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, which included more than 23 million respondents across the country.

In this report, we analyze the data to determine which states have the highest percentage of seniors experiencing depression, which states are seeing the sharpest increase in depression among seniors and in which states are seniors most frequently not getting the mental health services they need.  

States with the Highest Percentage of Seniors Reporting Depression

Nationwide, 30.9 percent of adults aged 60 and older reported feelings of depression for several, more than half or nearly all of the days between Sept. 29 and Oct. 11.   

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Graphic table listing senior depression rates in each state

In 29 states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of seniors who reported the same feelings was higher than the national average, with New Mexico recording the highest rate at 42.7 percent. 

Alaska, Vermont, Kentucky and Washington D.C. rounded out the top five. In 19 states, one out of every three seniors reporting feelings of depression.  

Montana seniors reported the lowest rate of depression in the U.S. at just 17.4 percent. Other states with low rates of senior depression included South Dakota, (20.1), Maine (20.6), Michigan (22.1) and Wisconsin (22.9). 

"Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult’s symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment." - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention1

The States Where Senior Depression Is Getting Worse

Senior depression is highest in New Mexico, but that’s not where rates are rising the fastest.

We compared the most recent Census Bureau survey data with answers to the same survey questions during the period between June 23 and July 5. Based on the differences in responses, we can see where reports of depression among seniors is rising the fastest.

The increases may partially be impacted by the transition from summer months to winter, which is often associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the negative psychological impacts it can have on people already suffering from mental health challenges.

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Graphic table showing the states with the highest increase of seniors reporting depression symptoms

Vermont, which had the third-highest rate of senior depression in the most recent data, was home to the biggest increase in reported senior depression rates since the summer. The percentage of Vermont seniors reporting depression symptoms shot up 93.6 percent between June 23 and Oct. 11.  

Kentucky, which ranks fourth in the most recent data, reported a 92.9 percent spike in reported senior depression since June 23. Rhode Island’s rate of senior depression jumped 83.9 percent during this time to push the state above the national average. 

Pennsylvania ranks just 32nd in senior depression overall but has experienced the seventh-highest increase since the summer. 

A total of eight states have seen depression rates among seniors rise at least 50 percent since June 23.

Perhaps even more worrying than the sheer number of seniors reporting feelings of depression is the percentage of older adults who are not receiving the mental health services they feel they need. 

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Graphic table showing the states with the highest rates of depressed seniors who report not getting the mental health services they need

In Rhode Island, where senior depression is rising fast, more than eight percent of survey respondents who reported needing mental health services during the study period said they couldn’t get the help they needed.

Vermont has the third-highest rate of depression among seniors in the nation. The state also features the highest increase of reported senior depression since the summer and the third-highest rate of seniors needing mental health services but not receiving them.  

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression related to changes in seasons, with symptoms peaking in the winter. To visualize the impact of seasonal affective disorder, we analyzed five years of Google search data related to searches about depression.

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Graphic chart showing Google search trends related to depression and psychiatric treatment

Search data taken over the past five years shows Google searches for the word “depression” spike sharply in the fall before peaking in the winter and then dropping in the spring. 

Google searches for “psychologist” follow a similar trajectory but see a sharp drop-off in winter just as searches for “depression” are peaking.

Mental Health Resources for Older Adults

Below is a list of resources that may help older adults and their loved ones manage depression and other mental health needs.

Methodology and Data Notes

The data used for this report came from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey Week 39 (September 29 through October 11, 2021), which is the most recent data available.

1 CDC. (Jan. 6, 2021). Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older.

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