“I Have a Lotta Sad Feelin'” – Unaddressed Mental Health Needs and Self-Support Strategies in Medicaid-Funded Assisted Living

Daniel David, Rebecca K.F. Lassell, Melissa Mazor, Abraham A. Brody, Dena Schulman-Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To investigate mental health needs and barriers to seeking mental health support in Medicaid-funded Assisted Living Facility (M-ALF). Design: A multimethod, qualitative-dominant descriptive design using questionnaires and semistructured interviews. Setting and Participants: The study occurred at a M-ALF in the Bronx, New York. A researcher in residence recruited 13 residents (11 Black or African American, 2 Asian) using purposive sampling. Methods: Demographic data and mental health indicators (depression, anxiety, stress, hopelessness) were measured with questionnaires (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, Edmonton Symptom Assessment System, Perceived Stress Scale, Beck Hopelessness Survey) and analyzed with descriptive statistics. Interviews were conducted between June and November 2021, transcribed, and analyzed using conventional content analysis. Results: Thirteen residents (mean age: 73.4 years, mean length of stay: 3.5 years; range: 1.0-7.5) completed data collection. Quantitatively indicators of unmet mental health were common. Qualitatively, residents reported barriers to mental health access to address depression, anxiety, and substance use. This was accompanied by concerns surrounding loss of autonomy, mistrust for M-ALF organizational support, isolation and uncertainty about how to receive mental health support. Perspectives were shaped by past experiences with institutional living, serious illness, and being unhoused. Themes and subthemes were (1) mental health need (unmet mental health need, depression, and anxiety and seeking support through non–mental health resources) and (2) barriers to mental health support (dissatisfaction with M-ALF care, perceived threats to autonomy, desire for autonomy that leads to diminished care seeking). Conclusion and Implications: Residents of M-ALF have mental health needs for which care is stymied by loss of autonomy, lack of resources, and the M-ALF environment. Residents use unconventional resources to address needs that may be neither efficient nor effective. Novel mental health interventions and processes are needed to improve mental health access and should prioritize residents’ desire for autonomy and the unique circumstances of living in M-ALF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-840
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Medical Directors Association
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Assisted living
  • Medicaid
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • mental health
  • older adults
  • qualitative research
  • stress
  • substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Health Policy
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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