The importance of mental health is gaining awareness, but perhaps not as much in our senior sector of society.
Not only do older adults live with the stigma of being just that—older—they are also less likely to ask for help in this area. Some may avoid seeking treatment because of how differently mental health issues were viewed when they were younger, and growing out of one’s learned habits is difficult to break. Anxiety and depression weren’t as widely discussed even a decade ago, and often considered negatively ‘back then’; something that a person could simply ‘get over’ if they just put their mind to it.
According to the World Health Organization, “Globally, the population is ageing rapidly. Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double, from 12% to 22%. The Mental and neurological disorders among older adults account for 6.6% of the total disability (DALYs) for this age group, and approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder.”
Thus, as our population ages and mental health issues multiply, those affected will include not only their immediate family and friends, but impact our health care system as physical side effects of mental health problems and illnesses manifest.
The signs a senior in your life may be suffering from mental health issues
Mental health issues can stem from all kinds of life stressors: Retirement, illness, isolation, and loss. When compounded, continuously weighing the sufferer down, they can lead to anxiety, agitation, becoming withdrawn, and depression.
Symptoms to look for:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
- Experiencing guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Fatigue and/or lack of energy
- Problems with concentration, memory, and/or decision-making
- Sleep problems, including difficulty sleeping, early awakening, and oversleeping
- Changes in your appetite or weight—more or less hungry than usual
- Thoughts of death or suicide, and suicide attempts
- Restlessness, irritability
- Physical problems that don’t improve
- Difficulty in functioning
- Decreased social activity
- Vague complaints that lead to more frequent visits to healthcare providers
Methods of promoting mental health awareness among seniors
According to HealthinAging.org, “Among adults aged 65 and older, about one in five have a mental disorder, including dementia. And over 50% of people living in long-term care facilities have some form of cognitive impairment.”
Beyond simply promoting awareness—which in itself is an important tool in helping those that need support and may not even realize it—there are a few things that can help stimulate not only awareness of mental health, but generate the first steps towards a better quality of life.
1. Help subdue the stigma! Talking openly and honestly about the importance of mental health can help to normalize the stigma surrounding it.
2. Through education, research, and outreach we can better understand, and thus see the signs early to help mitigate long-term mental health issues.
- Detect and manage challenging behavior, such as with those suffering from Dementia
- Identify and seek treatment accompanying physical illness
- Community support services that provide confidential, non-judgmental and one-to-one emotional support. See the Canadian Coalition For Seniors’ Mental Health website for resources.
Professional long-term support, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association’s “12 Hours That Can Change Your Live” webinar series that is “based on the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) which focuses on understanding how thoughts, feelings, and behaviours work together to impact well-being.” Offered in English, French, Cantonese, and Mandarin, the Living Life to the Full was developed by UK psychiatrist Dr. Chris Williams and CMHA British Columbia holds the exclusive licence to the program in Canada.
3. Promote active and healthy aging.
- Living conditions that promote quality of life
- Professional support and a strong peer community
- Continuum of care that caters to specific, individual needs
- Optimized physical and mental health through seniors’ programming and socials
We strongly believe in our senior residents living a life with purpose — it’s at the heart of makes The Verve Difference, and why we ensure all of the above are part of your experience in one of our nation-wide seniors’ residences.
For further reading
Organizations such as the Mental Health Commission of Canada website offers resources such as guidelines for policy makers, individuals and organizations, as well as tools for the long-term support workers assisting aging adults with mental health concerns. Their Compendium of Good Practices for Improving Seniors Mental Health in Canada is a dense set of comprehensive guidelines being used by mental health service planners and providers and community-based outreach services.
Our Verve Inspiring Stories blog also offers a host of tips, inspiration, and ideas for whole-body wellness that contributes to positive mental health.