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The ultimate guide to senior mental health

Learn the facts and the best ways to support the minds of your aging loved ones

In a study about mental health and the stigma that surrounds it, 98% of respondents agree that people with mental health issues are stigmatized and discriminated against in the United States. [1]

The detrimental effects of this stigma can be seen in the fact that approximately 60% of adults with a mental illness in the U.S. don’t receive any form of mental health services. [2]

When working to improve access to mental health services, senior mental health is often overlooked. This oversight is problematic because seniors are vulnerable to mental health issues due to their increased disposition to risk factors such as loneliness, physical health problems, and lack of social interaction. 

To help, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to senior mental health with facts and figures, frequently asked questions, and resources for you and your aging loved ones.

Start reading now or share with a loved one in need of support!

Facts and Figures:

What is mental health?

At its most basic level, mental health encompasses your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how you think, feel, and act, and it plays a role in determining how you handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy decisions. 

It can often be difficult for people to ignore the stigma and receive the help that they need to maintain good mental health. However, caring for your mental health is vitally important in every stage of your life, from childhood through older adulthood.

What are the most common mental health problems?

In the United States, the annual prevalence of mental health conditions among adults from most to least prevalent includes:

  • Anxiety disorders 
  • Major depressive episodes 
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 
  • Bipolar disorder 
  • Borderline Personality Disorder 
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and 
  • Schizophrenia. [3]

Anxiety disorders are by far the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting an estimated 48 million people or 19.1% of the population. Major Depressive Episodes are the only other disorder to come even close, affecting 19.4 million people or 7.8% of the population. [3]

How many people have mental health issues?

One of the most common health issues in the United States is mental illness.

Studies have shown that:

  • 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year
  • 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, and
  • Over 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder during their life. [4]

What causes mental health issues?

While there is no single cause of mental health disorders, there are risk factors that can contribute to their development including:

  • Adverse life experiences during childhood such as trauma or history of abuse
  • Biological factors such as genes or chemical imbalances in the brain 
  • Use of alcohol and recreational drugs 
  • Experiences related to other chronic medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes, and
  • Chronic loneliness and/or social isolation. [4]

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do mental health issues get worse with age?

Roughly 58% of people over 65 believe that depression is a natural part of aging, but myths like these prevent seniors from actually being treated for mental health disorders. [5]

Confusion about senior mental health often stems from the difficulty of distinguishing mental illness from regular signs of aging. While both significantly impact the physical and social well-being of aging adults, it’s important to understand that mental illness is not a regular sign of aging.   

What mental health issues are common in the elderly population?

It’s estimated that 20% of older adults experience mental health disorders in the U.S. [6]

The most prevalent senior mental health issues include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Severe cognitive impairment or dementia, and
  • Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. [6]

What are the warning signs of mental health issues in seniors?

If you have an aging loved one, it’s important to know the warning signs of senior mental health issues, so that you can provide them the support that they need. 

Due to stigmas and myths about mental health, many seniors won’t discuss the problems they’re battling. However, symptoms are often exhibited through behavior and physical actions that you can watch for in your loved ones. 

The warning signs of senior mental health issues include:

  • Changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or stress 
  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness, and
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain. [7]

How can seniors stay mentally healthy?

Maintaining good mental health as you age is equally as important as maintaining your physical health.

If you’re looking for the best ways to maintain or improve your mental health, try: 

  • Reading and writing
  • Learning a new language
  • Playing puzzles and games 
  • Keeping up with a regular exercise routine
  • Staying connected with others 
  • Volunteering for a worth cause, or
  • Caring for a pet. 

Read more:

How companionship helps seniors thrive

While it’s great to maintain your mental health as best you can on your own, it’s important to recognize when you need external support. Although it can be difficult to ignore the stigma, getting support from a mental health professional can often be the best way to care for your mental health as you age.

Resources: 

We’ve compiled a list of a few mental health resources for you to utilize and share with your loved ones: 

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the U.S. Their website features a variety of resources including access to support groups, mental health education, a help line, and video resource library. 
  • Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of Americans. In addition to mental health education, their site focuses on offering help to those with mental health struggles through online screenings, crisis resources, treatment options, and connections to therapists.
  • The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an international nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety disorders and depression. Their website features educational resources as well as how to find help. 
  • The Online Therapy Directory compiled a fact checked list of the 10 best online therapy platforms of 2021 which allows you to connect with a mental health professional from the comfort and safety of your own home. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency.

Are you or a loved one in need of support?

At Flourish in Place, our trained, compassionate caregivers offer much more than physical assistance—they’re also companions for those they care for. 

The friendly and reliable companionship offered by one of our caregivers can greatly improve and support the mental health of your aging loved ones.

To learn more, please request your Free Consultation today.

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Sources:

1: MentalHelp.net | The Stigma of Mental Illness

2: National Alliance on Mental Illness | Mental Health Facts in America

3: National Alliance on Mental Illness | Mental Health By the Numbers

4: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) | Learn About Mental Health

5: Mental Health America (MHA) | Depression In Older Adults: More Facts

6: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) | The State of Mental Health and Aging in America

7: National Institute of Mental Health | Older Adults and Mental Health

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