Mental illnesses do not magically go away as we age, though it may seem that way because there is little discussion about mental illness in seniors. In fact, not only does mental illness not go away but instead, it can actually begin in our later years.
Factors For Mental Illness In Seniors
As people age, many aspects of their life change which can have a significant impact on their mental health. Things like a shift in hormonal influences, lower work stresses, and less worry about competing with the Joneses often have a favorable impact on seniors’ mental health. However, in contrast with these positive changes, there can be other factors that change with age and can hurt one’s mental health.
Unfortunately, the longer one lives, the more likely it is that they have lost loved ones and close peers. As a result, social connections often lessen. With aging typically comes a decrease in physical health, which can force a change in habit and ability to maintain previous hobbies and activities. Some seniors develop diseases of the brain and neurological changes that impact mental health. Each of these factors can bring about, trigger, or exacerbate mental illness.
Seniors With Mental Illness Are More Common Than We Think
According to a recent study, 20% of people 65 years and older, not including those diagnosed with dementia, have a mental disorder. In fact, depression is actually more common in seniors than dementia; and these figures do not take into account all the seniors who are privately dealing with mental illnesses and have not disclosed them.
In regards to depression, there is some discussion (though not nearly enough), about its prevalence in seniors. However, when it comes to other mental illnesses affecting seniors such as anxiety, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, and more, the conversation and research is incredibly limited.
What Can I Do
For seniors with symptoms of mental illness, understand that mental illness is common and nothing to be ashamed of. There is no need to struggle alone privately. Especially since many of these illnesses can be treatable or at the very least manageable. We urge you to talk with your loved ones and health care provider(s) about your symptoms.
If a senior close to you is showing symptoms of mental illness, talk with them about your concerns, and if appropriate, encourage them to seek mental health services. Having these conversations can be uncomfortable, and many people put them off due to fear of saying the wrong thing. However, if these conversations are addressed with care and respect, it is often more important to say something, even if imperfectly said, than nothing at all.
What Resources Are There For Seniors With Mental Illness
Over the last few years, the national conversation around depression and mental illness has started to gain steam. Many prominent figures, celebrities, athletes, etc. have publicly discussed their experiences with mental illness. Fantastic organizations such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), The Jed Foundation, The Institute on Aging, and others have received better funding and offer new and better assistance programs.
The Institute on Aging has a particularly great resource called the Friendship Line. The Friendship Line is a free resource that serves as both a crisis intervention hotline and a “warmline” for non-urgent calls and was created specifically for seniors, and their loved ones, in need of assistance.
The Friendship Line is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and can be reached at (800) 871-0016