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Mental Health Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13

Mental Health Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13

The phrase "golden years" conjures images of older adults basking in the carefree days that come with retirement. For one in four adults age 65 and older, however, those golden years can be accompanied by dark days in the form of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or dementia.

Even more disturbing is the fact that those 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any age group. It's particularly alarming to learn that older white males have a suicide rate almost six times that of the general population. And future trends are especially concerning, as the number of older adults with mental health disorders is expected to nearly double by 2030.

These startling statistics demand attention, and ATRIO Health Plans is supporting Mental Health Awareness Week, Oct. 7-13, by increasing awareness about the prevalence of mental illness among older Americans.

Why Older Adults are at Risk

A variety of factors increase the risk of older adults experiencing mental health conditions:

  • Seniors often experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty or other health problems requiring long-term care. A significant percentage of patients in these settings experience depression and other mental health issues.
  • For many older Americans, retirement can be accompanied by a drop in socioeconomic status, which can lead to depression and/or anxiety.
  • One-third of widows/widowers meet criteria for depression in the first month after their spouse's death, and half remain clinically depressed after one year.
  • Mental health has an impact on physical health, and vice versa. For instance, older adults with chronic conditions such as heart disease, have higher rates of depression than those who are healthy. Similarly, untreated depression in an older person with heart disease can negatively affect heart disease outcomes. Clinical depression can be triggered by other illnesses common in later life, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and arthritis.
  • Mental health services often are underutilized by seniors because they're not comfortable discussing mental illness, or they may not even recognize that they're experiencing a mental health issue. Additionally, older adults frequently have acute physical maladies that take precedence during a doctor's appointment, leaving their mental health unaddressed.

Treating and Managing Mental Illness

Fortunately, there are highly effective treatments for depression occurring later in life, and most depressed older adults improve dramatically with treatment. Other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and bipolar disorder, also can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.

If you're an older person with a mental health condition, the treatment you receive will be the same as for those in any other age group. Treatment depends on your symptoms, but may take one or more of the following forms:

  • Lifestyle changes such as daily exercise and having a healthy diet.
  • Psychotherapy to help you understand the root causes of your illness.
  • Medications to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
  • Learning how to reduce and manage stress.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Eliminating nicotine use.
  • Continuing treatment for as long as necessary.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/mental_health.pdf

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-older-adults-more-facts

https://mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/initiatives

https://www.myagedcare.gov.au/getting-started/health-conditions/mental-health

https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2017-10-11/older-adults-struggle-to-get-adequate-mental-health-care

http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-of-older-adults