Mental Health Challenges and Tips for Older Adults
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For many, one of the perks of reaching the third age (ages 65 to 84) is pursuing retirement and ultimately having more free time. However, being a senior might also introduce new challenges that people may not always consider. Some of those challenges are developing physical or chronic health issues and mental health issues or illnesses and decreasing social interaction.
The ages leading up to retirement may be harder to navigate due to healthcare concerns (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer and more) and incredibly isolating due to a lack of social inclusion and stigma. “At this point in an older person’s life, they are going through many transitions,” says Wally Acevedo, Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Centerstone. Many of these transitions may be life-altering, such as older-aged friends experiencing physical or chronic illnesses or death, loss of consistent income or loss of ability. It becomes increasingly difficult in the journey of receiving adequate care for mental and physical health without challenges being present.
Seniors that receive healthcare face many other barriers, including inadequate insurance coverage, affordability of care, a shortage of trained geriatric mental health providers, and a lack of inclusive programs and services. According to research, it is estimated that up to 63 percent of older adults with mental health disorders do not receive the necessary services.
As our loved ones may experience hardship in their next chapter, it is important to know other ways that family and friends can help:
- Educate others. “Educate your friends and family about mental illness and provide factual information to replace any stigma,” says Acevedo. Try to educate others that mental health should be cared for like any other medical issue. Remind others that it may be harmful to label someone with a mental illness—remember they are a person, and their illness does not define them.
- Advocacy. Reach out to representatives about pursuing more inclusive legislation surrounding better insurance coverage of mental health services and therapy for the senior population. Try to emphasize the demand for collaborative communication between physical and mental health providers and the growing need for trained geriatric mental and physical health providers.
- Social support. Try to stay in touch with loved ones and take the time to listen to them. Encourage older loved ones to engage in hobbies they enjoy or to participate in local or online communities, support groups and forums to get more social interaction. “The older population needs to be reminded by loved ones that they are still valuable, talented and strong,” says Acevedo.
- Normalize treatment. Treatment may be helpful to those who need it, and it might benefit others in minimizing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Try to talk more openly about daily struggles to help encourage others to seek support and remove any shame or stigma associated with therapy or receiving treatment.
Reaching an older age does not mean that you matter any less. Be there for the seniors in your life and remind them of their value.