Mental Health Matters for Older Adults
May 1, 2023
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
The topic of mental health has become more prevalent in the states in the past few years and especially following the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic – and it affects people of all ages. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in.” Mental health and well-being are as important in older age as at any other time of life and approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.
Risk Factors for Mental Illness
We all deal with stress but some people experience more distress than others. The Older adult population is one group of people that are exposed to different types of stressors that can challenge their mental health.
Common Stressors for Older Adults
Loss is one of the more common stressors that older adults deal with. Whether it be the loss of a loved one to death, Loss of physical abilities, loss of independence, loss of purpose or even memory retention. We all know that memory can be tricky the older we get, but it can also create a sense of fear once someone realizes their memory isn’t quite as sharp as it used to be. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, worry, lack of confidence and isolation. All of these stressors cause psychological distress in older adults which increases the risk for depression and mental illness if not combatted quickly.
Making Mental Health a Priority
There are ways to keep your mental health as a priority. Some simple practices can help boost mental health if adopted on a consistent basis.
Learn to accept loss in a health way. This is easier said than done, right? Discovering healthy coping mechanisms for when life gets really hard can help keep our mental health from straying too far off track. Joining grief support groups, talking with a licensed counselor, leaning on the support of friends and family are all ways to deal with loss.
Move daily. According to Rebecca W. Brendel, M.D., a psychiatrist, regular physical activity is strongly linked to better mental health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of intentional exercise daily and keep that movement consistent for optimal benefits to your brain and body.
Practice gratitude. Some folks tend to see the glass as half full while others see it as half empty. Pay attention to your thoughts and if negative thought processes are a regular, try to reshape the negativity by practicing gratitude and thinking of the positives in all situations.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you find that you have been sad or depressed for more than 2 weeks, talk to someone. Maybe it’s a friend or maybe it’s a medical professional. The older populations are more apt to reject help with mental health but using a medical professional is the best way to get to the root of your problems. To find a therapist in your area, speak with your primary care physician.
If you or your family has a history of mental illness then it is most important that you find routine practices to make mental health a priority in your life. Surround yourself with people that accept and love you for who you are, stay social as much as possible, have fun, move your body, and create healthy coping mechanisms if you don’t have them already. And never forget that medical professionals can be the best resource sometimes so don’t be afraid to ask for help because, your mental health matters.