Each year, nearly 44 million adults in America experience mental health concerns ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts. May is designated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, a call for helping those living with mental health conditions to get the resources and acceptance they need. Older Americans in particular are vulnerable to unrecognized and untreated forms of mental illness.
Depression is the most common mental health condition among America’s seniors. Other prevalent cognitive and emotional health problems among the elderly include dementia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and social phobia. More serious diagnoses such as schizophrenia and personality disorders persistently diminish the quality of life and daily functioning for seniors. Depressed seniors or those dealing with emotional concerns neglect eating well, getting regular exercise, maintaining the home and interacting socially.
Older adults often face a number of life stressors that heighten psychological distress. Many seniors experience chronic pain, restricted mobility, bereavement, loneliness and a loss of independence — all which can impact mental and emotional health. Countless older military veterans carry post-war wounds to their psychological health. In addition, medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease can worsen depression and other mental health disabilities in seniors.
Warning signs of mental illness are not always easy to detect. The following behaviors are signals that something may be amiss with one’s mental well-being:
- Ongoing sadness or feeling blue
- Extreme mood swings including euphoric highs
- Intense worry or fear
- Uncontrolled, compulsive actions such as overspending or excessive cleaning
- Heightened irritability or anger
- Confusion or lack of concentration
- Sleep difficulties
- Trouble perceiving reality such as having delusions or hallucinations
- Marked changes in eating habits
- Several physical illnesses without obvious causes (headaches, vague aches and pains)
- Suicidal thoughts
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Overuse of alcohol or drugs
While only about 60 percent of individuals with a mental illness receive mental health care, effective treatments are available for the majority of mental conditions. A first step is to meet with a physician or mental health practitioner. Treatment and disease management depend on the underlying condition, but common recovery measures combine medication and psychotherapy.
An elder may have limited access to care or may be in denial about mental challenges, but family members can secure help for their loved one. The RightConversationsSM guide is an invaluable resource that helps an ailing senior and concerned family caregivers engage in constructive dialogue about a need for care assistance. As a leader in senior care services, Right at Home assists elders and adult disabled clients with comprehensive care needs from medication monitoring and meal preparation to surgery recovery and transportation.
National Mental Health Awareness Month is a reminder to not let illness of any type define a person. Those living with mental health conditions, and their families as well, need to know they are not alone. For additional information about National Mental Health Awareness Month and mental health resources, visit Mental Health America at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may or MentalHealth.gov at https://www.mentalhealth.gov.
How have mental health concerns affected your senior loved one?