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Mental Health Awareness Month: Supporting older adults

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As May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, it's crucial to recognize that mental well-being extends to all ages, including our seniors. With the global population aging rapidly, it's estimated that by 2030, 1.4 billion people will be aged 60 and above.

By 2050, this number will be closer to 2.1 billion, making up one-sixth of the population. These statistics emphasize the growing importance of addressing any health matter among our seniors, including mental health. Mental health promotion and prevention strategies for older adults focus on supporting healthy ageing. That means creating physical and social environments that support well-being and enable people to do what is important to them.

The physical, emotional, and cognitive struggles faced by older adults can lead to feelings of depression, which over time may evolve into clinical depression. Clinical depression is a mood disorder characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. In recent years, suicide rates have been on the rise for older adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that seniors aged 75 and above have the highest suicide rate compared to other age groups. This is largely due to a unique set of stressors that individuals experience as they age including: loss of loved ones, isolation, and declining physical health.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the U.S. Call or text 988 to talk with a trained counselor.

Senior-related stressors

The National Institutes of Health states that isolation and loneliness are significant contributors to depression among seniors. As individuals age, their social circles often shrink due to the loss of friends and loved ones, leading to feelings of loneliness.

Even seniors who have not been diagnosed with depression may exhibit symptoms due to isolation. Additionally, life changes, financial difficulties, and health issues further exacerbate mental health challenges among older adults. These changes can lead to feelings of grief, social isolation, or loneliness, which can lead to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

Mental health problems can also have a high impact on an older person's ability to carry out basic daily living activities, reducing their independence, autonomy, and quality of life.

Physical health also plays a crucial role in seniors' mental well-being. As they age, physical impairments, reduced mobility, and increased rates of diseases contribute to a decline in mental acuteness. When combined with other stressors, these factors can lead to severe depression and, in some cases, suicide.

Symptoms of mental disorders in older adults

An important first step in treating older adults with mental health issues is knowing the warning signs. In addition to an explicit expression of depression, there are certain behaviors that can indicate an older adult is struggling with their mental health. These include:

• Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite

• Feeling “flat” or having trouble feeling positive emotions

• Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much

• Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge

• Increased worry or feeling stressed

• Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness

• Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain

• Misuse of alcohol or drugs

• Sadness or hopelessness

• Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts

• Engaging in high-risk activities

• Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior

• Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life

• Engaging in thinking or behavior that is concerning to others

• Seeing, hearing, and feeling things that other people do not see, hear, or feel

Showing one or two of these behaviors might not be cause for concern, but when multiple behaviors are combined, people should seek help. A primary care provider is a good place to start for those looking for help. Providers can refer individuals to a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker, who can help figure out the next steps.

How older adults can take care of their mental health

As we grow older it is important to address the needs of our mental health. Whether people are approaching retirement or already experiencing retirement as a new stage of life, examining, and establishing ways to maintain good mental health is key to healthy aging. Below are a few ways to keep your health thriving:

• Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can boost your mood and improve your health.

• Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day.

• Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

• Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises.

• Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait.

• Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down or replay them in your mind.

• Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.

• Stay connected. Reach out to friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.

As we observe Mental Health Awareness month, let's take the time to support our seniors. Spending quality time with them and fostering open conversations about mental health can make a significant difference in their well-being. Remember, seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but a proactive step towards better mental health.

For immediate support in a mental health crisis, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – call/text 988, or Chat at


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