Mental health is an important aspect of our daily lives, especially more so as we age. In particular, many older adults are at higher risk for mental health problems. Important life changes can make one feel stressed, unhappy, or uneasy. These kinds of changes are often events that happen with higher frequency in our older age, such as retirement, becoming a widow, or dealing with a chronic illness (1). Although many older adults are able to adjust to these changes, many may lack the support system or ability to be able to adequately adjust themselves. This puts them at higher risk for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It is estimated that 20% of people aged 55 and older experience some type of mental health concern according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Mental health issues are often pointed to as a factor in many cases of suicide. Out of any age group, older men have the highest suicide rates out of any other group. Men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000 compared to an overall 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages. Even though the older adults with symptoms of depression are higher compared to other age groups, this is not a normal part of getting older. It is oftentimes a treatable condition although it tends to be untreated and unrecognized amongst older adults (2). This can be attributed to the fact that many seniors are more willing to report physical symptoms rather than psychiatric ones. In fact, it is only recently that mental health has become more widely talked about. Only fifty years ago, mental health was very taboo and not discussed often. Many forms of media, such as movies, incorrectly represented those with mental health issues and painted them in a negative light. Mental health already not being treated well and mental health institutions not having the best conditions left mental health being viewed as even less important in schools. Consequently, many seniors today may not even recognize that they are facing mental health issues.
If you are someone who is close to a senior, it is not always easy to identify signs of a mental health condition; however, there are multiple signs.
Many seniors with mental health issues are more likely to withdraw from their social circles.
Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to a variety of mental health conditions,
including depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
One reaction to depressive symptoms can be substance misuse. Although substance misuse is risky at any age, seniors are more vulnerable to the negative effects that this can bring. For example, if a senior is binge-drinking, then this excessive alcohol consumption can have dangerous interactions with their medications and cause worse medical problems.
Changes in Personal Care
Seniors with mental health issues may noticeably change their personal care routines. Trouble maintaining the home, changes in their appearance as well as neglecting personal hygiene can be a sign of a mental health issue.
Changes in Eating Habits
Seniors suffering from mental health issues may go to different extremes of eating habits. This includes binging on food or avoiding eating all together. They may lose their appetite faster than normal or rely on junk food exclusively (3).
(1) Older Adult Mental Health: Medline Plus (medlineplus.gov)
(2) The State of Mental Health and Aging in America (cdc.gov)
(3) 7 Signs That Seniors May be Struggling with Mental Health Issues (pavilionwp.com)