Mental health disorders affect about 20% of older adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recognizing and acknowledging that a mental illness exists in seniors can be challenging due to feelings of shame, fear, or the simple dismissal due to the assumption that it is part of the “aging process.” Mental illness is not a natural part of aging. While mental health disorders affect younger adults more often than the elderly, seniors are less likely to seek help according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
The most common mental and neurological disorders among people 60+ are dementia, depression, and anxiety disorders according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Today, at least one in four older adults experience some form of mental disorder. Due to population aging, this number is expected to double by 2030. The lack of awareness or recognition of these mental illnesses in seniors results in people aged 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any age group.
With knowledge, you can assess the safety and well-being of yourself or others by understanding the risk factors for mental health disorders. Being aware of the most common indicators that a struggle with mental health is occurring is key;
Risk Factors for Mental Health Disorders in Seniors
According to the WHO and the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, the potential triggers for mental illness in the elderly include;
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Dementia-causing illness (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease)
- Loss of a loved one
- Long-term illness (e.g., cancer or heart disease)
- Chronic Pain
- Medication interactions
- Physical disability or loss of mobility
- Physical illnesses that affect emotion, memory, and thought
- Poor diet or malnutrition
Indicators of Mental Illness in Seniors
It is important to pay attention to changes in your or your loved one’s regular activities that may indicate help is needed. Naturally, changes will occur as we age but, consistent alterations to behaviors could indicate a mental health concern;
- Changes in appearance or dress; problems maintaining the home or yard
- Confusion, disorientation, other problems with concentration or decision-making
- Decrease in appetite; drastic changes in weight
- Depressed mood lasting longer than two weeks
- Feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt, helplessness; thoughts of suicide
- Memory loss, especially recent or short-term memory problems
- Physical problems that can’t otherwise be explained: aches constipation, etc.
- Social withdrawal, or loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
- Trouble handling finances or working with numbers
- Unexplained fatigue, energy loss, or sleep changes
Mental Illness Awareness Initiatives
Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from October 3-9, 2021 culminating with World Mental Health Day on Sunday, October 10th. Visit our Facebook page to find additional resources that can help with mental illness awareness and treatment.
If you are in need of assistance for your loved one or simply need someone to support you through a difficult time please reach out to our team, we would be happy to direct you to local resources or providers that can assist.
World Health Organization. “Mental Health of Older Adults.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older.”
National Institute of Mental Health. “Mental Illness.”