A dimensional liability model of age differences in mental disorder prevalence: Evidence from a national sample

Nicolas Hoertel, Kibby McMahon, Mark Olfson, Melanie M. Wall, Jorge Mario Rodríguez-Fernández, Cédric Lemogne, Frédéric Limosin, Carlos Blanco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent theories have proposed a metastructure that organizes related mental disorders into broad dimensions of psychopathology (i.e., internalizing and externalizing dimensions). Prevalence rates of most mental disorders, when examined independently, are substantially lower in older than in younger adults, which may affect this metastructure. Within a nationally representative sample, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC; N=43,093), we developed a dimensional liability model of common psychiatric disorders to clarify whether aging affects specific disorders or general dimensions of psychopathology. Significant age differences existed across age groups (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65-75 and 75+), such that older adults showed lower prevalence rates of most disorders compared to younger adults. We next investigated patterns of disorder comorbidity for past-year psychiatric disorders and found that a distress-fear-externalizing liability model fit the data well. This model was age-group invariant and indicated that the observed lower prevalence of mental disorders with advancing age originates from lower average means on externalizing and internalizing liability dimensions. This unifying dimensional liability model of age and mental disorder comorbidity can help inform the role of aging on mental disorder prevalence for research and intervention efforts, and service planning for the impending crisis in geriatric mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-113
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - May 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Age differences
  • Age invariance
  • Comorbidity
  • Elderly
  • Internalizing-externalizing
  • Mental disorders
  • Older adults
  • Psychiatric disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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