With mental health and wellness becoming a bigger priority in the United States, concerns regarding our retired population are still being put on the backburner. As of 2017, the World Health Organization estimates that nearly 15% of adults over the age of 60 have a mental health disorder.
While 15% might not seem that high, this means that 2 million seniors over the age of 65 have serious depression while another 5 million experience other forms of mental illness.
According to an article by Forbes, doctors are listing higher incidences of seniors suffering from addiction, depression, and suicide along with the typically thought-of Alzheimers and dementia patients. While these latter conditions are prioritized in the United States, the stigmatization regarding mental illness is still prevalent today. Paired with the other, more urgent health issues threatening the senior population — chronic conditions, mobility issues, and ER visits — mental health is often disregarded or rarely receives follow-ups.
The risks mental illness poses
Suicide is seen most often in people over 65 — in fact, this demographic accounts for practically 16% of all suicides committed in the United States. Depression in our seniors is the leading cause of suicide for this age group. According to Forbes, those who commit suicide often seek help before committing the act.
“[Roughly] 20% see a doctor on the day they die, 40% the same week and 70% the same month,” reported Forbes in November of last year.
Why aren’t we talking about it?
Mental illness is a complicated issue plaguing the senior population in the United States. Because mental health is often influenced by physical health and vice versa, the more pressing or urgent illnesses are prioritized.
In the elderly population, many seniors experience mental illness after a traumatic experience, a shift in lifestyle (such as moving to assisted living facilities), or as a co-dependent illness associated with another chronic condition, like Alzheimers or dementia. This can make treating the mental illness a complicated issue when different medications are being used simultaneously to treat other additional health problems.
For those people who have experienced long-term mental illness, their mental health treatment may need to change as they age. Paired with the stigmatization associated with mental illness in America, some seniors are likely ashamed to admit they need treatment until the illness gets worse. While depression and anxiety are becoming a commonly talked about topic, mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, and addiction are still difficult to discuss.
What can we do to help?
Assisted living facilities are a great way to combat the mental health issues harming the senior population. While the lifestyle change may be difficult for some, the fact of the matter is that a nursing facility can offer much-needed care for a variety of health issues.
While many think of retirement care as a way for the elderly to stay social, there are many independent living options for seniors who need occasional care and check-ups as well.
The first thing we should do is break the stigma of talking about mental health issues that damage our seniors. While memory care is important and many facilities offer 24-hour care for patients, specialized care is necessary for anyone who suffers from a mental health issue.