May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and it couldn’t be more spot on for all of us this year. Not only do we have our everyday life obstacles and challenges to cause us mental anguish, but the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic at large has caused most to have some mental instability. All ages, young to old, we are all feeling it.
Many believe that only the young and young adults feel mental challenges. That seniors get to retire, and be free, and do whatever they want, with no worries. Not so! Senior citizens have a great deal of mental health issues because they have many worries and insecure feelings. The mental health of older Americans has become a priority lately, and has been identified by Healthy People 2010 objectives, the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, and the 1999 Surgeon General’s report on mental health.
With physical health of the utmost importance to all, mental health is becoming in the forefront too. The stigma associated with mental health needs to be removed, along with the treatment that can be obtained to treat and help. Along with that, eliminating health disparities and improving access to mental health services needs to be worked on.
The most common conditions that those 55 and older are affected with are anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. The CDC show that men aged 85 and older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000, compared to an overall rate of 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages. That is a staggering number, and needs to be examined as to how it can be improved.
Depression is a serious issue with older adults. It can be associated with distress and suffering. It can also lead to impairments in physical, mental, and social functioning, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More doctor and hospital visits occur from seniors with depression, along with more medicines being taken. And depression is not a part of the aging process…most cases can be treated successfully. But unfortunately the stigma that remains on mental health conditions especially by older adults and the insurance community, many depressive disorders are under-recognized and under- or un-treated.
Depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health issues are not a normal part of aging. Left untreated, they can lead to fatigue, illness, and even suicide. According to the National Council on Aging(NCOA), one in four older adults experiences some mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, and dementia. Stressors that can lead to mental health issues are the same in older adults as we have throughout life, along with many others. The loss of functional ability, reduced mobility, chronic pain, health issues; also, loss of friends to death and illness, money issues in retirement. These can all result in isolation and loneliness, causing more depression and anxiety. So we can see how it can be a vicious cycle of depression to not feeling well, to more depression, to chronic conditions, on and on and on.
So what can we do? Of course start by talking to your doctor. Possibly a medication can help to relieve severe symptoms and issues. Talking to someone, such as a therapist, can help as well. Do not isolate yourself, stay social, talk with people about how you feel. It is all valid and will be accepted. Mental health is not wrong, it is not bad, if you have it you are not bad!
Other things you can do outside of those suggestions:
1. Learn something new. Keep the brain active and invigorated. Tai chi, knitting, a new language, dancing…have fun with it!
2. Family and friend support. Stay connected, talk about your feelings, eat meals together…even if remotely.
3. Adopt a pet. Pets are great companions. Yes, a huge undertaking and responsibility, but always a friend there for you.
4. Modern technologies. Weighted blankets help anxious feelings. Staying connected to friends and family with your phone or computer. Another resource is: Friendship Line (800-971-0016)
The Institute on Aging (IOA) offers the Friendship Line, a 24/7, toll-free crisis phone line for people aged 60 years and above. The non-profit organization’s main mission is to help seniors live with dignity and independence, with a focus on senior wellness. ‘The IOA Friendship Line is the only program nationwide in the US that reaches out to lonely, depressed, isolated, frail, and/or suicidal older adults. Their trained volunteers specialize in offering a caring ear and having a friendly conversation with depressed older adults.’ says Kerri Pollock from IOA.
Your mental health is important! When you don’t feel yourself and just not right, do not brush it under the rug and think it will go away. Listen to it and respond to it. Take care of yourself. Any mental health issues or disorders you might have are not bad, and can be dealt with…just like any physical ailment you may have. Remember, they are one in the same. A disease is a disease. A condition is a condition. An ailment is an ailment. And you can get help for it. Please take care of yourself, in every way! You will thank yourself, and you are so important to this world!