Methods: We used the Web of Science (WoS) core collection database for this study and limited the articles published between January 2000 and March 2022. A total of 287 items were retrieved from WOS using the following terms: ((“mental health”) AND (“older” OR “elderly”) AND (“Chinese” OR “China”) AND ("rural"). Excluding conference abstracts and proceedings resulted in 274 articles for final analysis. We used the CiteSpace software to cluster and summarize the large quantities of bibliometric data to present the state of the intellectual structure and emerging trends of the research topic.
Results: Most generally, studies on the mental health of rural older adults have an upsurge since 2018. The increase of studies covered themes including cognitive health, self-rated health, severe mental illness, social determinants, bachelor men in rural areas, and behavioral change. Mental health, social support, and depressive symptoms were the most frequently used keywords within the 22 years. Furthermore, our results also highlighted more focus on the mental health research in recent years involving empty-nested older people, fringe benefits, filial piety, and community aging. The most vigorous citation bursts, including community, disorder, duration, risk factors, chronic disease, and care, demonstrated that studies on rural older adults’ mental health had the diversity in the coverage.
Conclusions and Implications: To our knowledge, this is the first study using the bibliometric method to analyze the general trend of mental health studies in Chinese older adults. The fact that these themes have spread into different topics, including cognitive health, severe mental illness, and depression, suggests studies have progressed into these previously understudied mental health issues. Meanwhile, the increase of studies on topics including social determinants, bachelor men in rural areas, social support, and care revealed more attention to the social relationship. These two themes demonstrate that studies on Chinese rural older adults have moved to health as a new study trend. A concurrent movement emphasizes social support and social determinants of health and mental health. The emerging mental health theme suggests the importance of mental health issues among rural older adults, which could contribute to the policy changes and social benefits regarding the rural older adults. Furthermore, studies on the importance and possible changes in social support systems in rural areas are likely to cover with studies on mental health.