When it comes to the mental health of older adults, the bottom line is this; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it “must be recognized and treated with the same urgency as physical health.” Mystic Valley Elder Services wholeheartedly agree with that recommendation and provide services to support the mental health of our consumers. Here is why it is so important.
Good mental health is essential if an individual is to age well and avoid the ravages of depression, anxiety, and mental illness. The mental health of older Americans impacts overall physical and emotional health, and the ability to engage in life.
Although many older people report some type of mental health concern, the good news is that most older adults say they are happy with their lives. Only 20 percent of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern.
Statistics gathered through the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey conducted in all 50 states, provides a snapshot of older adults’ mental health, both positive and negative. For those suffering with mental health issues, the survey showed:
- The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders including depression or bipolar disorder
- Mental health issues are often implicated as a factor in cases of suicide
- Older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group
- Men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000, compared to an overall rate of 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages
- Women age 50 or older reported more current and lifetime diagnosis of depression than men
- 9% compared to 6.2% for current depressive symptoms
- 1% compared to 11.7% for lifetime diagnosis
For those who are happy with their lives, the survey showed:
- Nearly 95% of adults age 50 or older reported being “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their lives
- Only 9.2% of adults 50 or older report frequent mental distress
- Only 6.5% of adults 65 or older report frequent mental distress
When older adults indicate they feel a general sense of satisfaction with their lives, it may be because they can access support and mental health services for older adults. Ninety percent of adults 50 or older report they are getting the support they need like:
- Emotional support and information
- Lifestyle support like transportation and in-home assistance
These services help an individual to feel connected, supported, and independent, instead of isolated and unable to engage in life. For older adults to access the right type of assistance for their needs, services must be available broadly across demographic boundaries. Those older adults who say they “rarely or never” receive the social support they need include:
- Twelve percent of adults age 65 or older
- One-fifth of Hispanic and other minorities
- 11 percent of men over the age of 50
Mental health can be a slippery slope
Although many types of mental illness, such as depression, can be successfully treated, there are unique challenges when trying to address these conditions in the older adult population.
1: Diagnosing mental health issues in older adults can be especially challenging. Many older adults concentrate on reporting physical ailments to their physicians and are reticent to discuss how they feel mentally and emotionally.
2: Older adults can be resistant to getting treatment for mental health issues. They may believe they can “get over it” by themselves. They may fear that a diagnosis of mental illness will result in them being removed from their homes. Yet others may feel there is a stigma attached to discussing mental health issues.
These issues make it essential that family members be aware of a older adult loved one’s behavior and any changes. If you know the risk factors and symptoms of depression, you can identify them early and intervene to get effective treatment
The risk factors for depression and other types of mental illness include:
- Physical illness
- Impaired functional status, physical, emotional or cognitive
- Heavy alcohol use
- Low education of grades less than high school (impairs ability/knowledge to find support)
Signs & symptoms of mental illness
If your older adult loved one exhibits any of the following signs, keep track of how long they exhibit the symptoms. If it is more than a couple of days, seek help. Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness
- Withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities
- Refusal to join social activities
- Inability to concentrate
- Difficulty sleeping
- Physical discomfort, aches and pains without any diagnosed cause
We know that older adults want to live active, engaged lives. The right diagnosis and treatment for mental health issues will help to ensure that your loved one does not fall victim to anxiety and depression and can remain healthy physically, emotionally, and mentally.
If you need professional help, Mystic Valley Elder Services operates a Mobile Mental Health program for older adults who need professional mental health services but are unable to leave their homes for treatment or counseling. Through its Mobile Mental Health program, clinical caseworkers provide outreach to elders experiencing mental health conditions that impact their functioning and ability to get their needs met. To find out more about this program, call us at 781-324-7705.