Higher self-esteem linked to better mental health in seniors

Seniors who reported higher cortisol levels and lower self-esteem reported higher depressive symptoms and perceived stress, according to a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

The findings hint at the protective health benefits of higher self-esteem for seniors.

Sarah Y. Liu and Carsten Wrosch, PhD, and colleagues from Concordia University, Montreal, measured diurnal cortisol in 147 older adults (aged 60 years and older) at three different points in a 4-year period. Participants provided several saliva samples throughout the day and also responded to surveys on their self-esteem and perceived stress levels and depression symptoms.

Carsten Wrosch

Carsten Wrosch

Researchers reported a general trend in cortisol levels being high in the morning, peaking 30 minutes after waking and continuously declining until bedtime.

Using two separate linear regression analyses, Liu et al calculated the effects of self-esteem changes over time, reports of depressive symptoms and perceived stress in relation to changes in cortisol levels.

From baseline to 2 years, a decline in self esteem predicted elevated cortisol output from year 2 to year 4 (P=.005), according to researchers.

Additionally, associations with elevated cortisol were particularly strong among participants who experienced higher baseline or 2-year levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress (–1 SD: beta level = –.34 to –.51; P<.001), as seen in interaction analyses. However, this association was not significant among their counterparts who reported lower levels of depressive symptoms or perceived stress (–1 SD: beta level = .03 to .11, P>.43).

“These findings suggest that increases in self-esteem can protect older adults from exhibiting distress-related increases in diurnal cortisol secretion,” researchers wrote. “These findings may be used in interventions that target self-esteem to improve older adults’ quality of life.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.