Mental Health Awareness

June 21, 2016

Portrait of thoughtful sad elderly woman

Mental health awareness is a vital part of a healthy community.  Issues surrounding mental health are pervasive amongst all demographics and should not be overlooked as we age.  The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 20 percent of the aging population is struggling with some type of mental health disorder and these numbers are likely to rise as the aging population continues to expand.  Our mental health is a significant factor in our ability to live a happy independent life as we age, and the impact that changes in neurologic and mental health status have on life should be taken seriously.

Mental health does not have one cause. Psychological, social, and biological factors are all contributors to mental health status. We are often faced with numerous changes as we age, and the impact of these changes should not be disregarded.  A multitude of factors such as changes in ability to live independently, decreased socioeconomic status, pain, decreased physical health and changes in mobility can all contribute to feelings of loneliness or isolation.  Mental health and physical health are directly correlated, and should be addressed when assessing a comprehensive view of overall health.  Even a seemingly normal transition may dramatically affect our emotions.

Our bodies and minds change as we age. The most common neuropsychiatric conditions facing the aging population are dementia and depression.  Anxiety and substance abuse are also conditions that are of great concern.  Research confirms that older adults are less likely to receive mental health intervention than their younger counterparts and the majority of these interventions are sought in the primary care physician’s office rather than seeking out a professional that is trained in the treatment of mental health disorders. This dilemma may be augmented by inadequate insurance coverage, a shortage of trained geriatric mental health providers, lack of coordination from primary care physicians and mental health providers, stigma surrounding mental health, denial of problems and limited access to transportation. Barriers to proper care need to be addressed. Solutions can be found for any situation.

We all feel sad sometimes and emotional changes can be a normal part of life. When sadness persists and begins to interfere with life, depression may be the cause.  Depression is not a part of normal aging.  Depression can often co-exist with medical issues such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Depression is often viewed as a part of these health conditions, but this does not have to be true. Depression can happen to anyone and may present for no apparent reason. Our bodies change throughout our lifetime and embracing these changes allows us to live life to the fullest.  Remember, depression is treatable.

Sadly, suicide is often an overlooked dilemma in the aging population.  Suicides rates amongst adults over the age of 65 are higher than any other population and these rates rise dramatically amongst Caucasian males.  Many of these suicides could be prevented, as research indicates that up to 70 percent of those who commit suicide sought care from a primary care physician in the month prior to death.  Issues such as the loss of a loved one, debilitating physical ailments, changes in residence or other stressful events can be the triggering factors for a depressive episode.  There may not be a triggering cause, but the feelings and emotions are real no matter the situation.

Life changes are inevitable. It is how we address these changes can make all the difference for ourselves and our loved ones. Mental health disorders greatly affect one’s ability to live a full and happy life.  Even mild depression can greatly impact health related outcomes.  If you or someone you love is feeling sad, experiencing anxiety or may be prone to substance abuse, don’t be afraid to talk about these issues.  Initiating difficult conversations can be the key that opens the door to changing someone’s life.  It is not necessary to hold stigma around mental health. Take a deep breath.  Speak up. Talk.  You will change someone’s life.

                                                                     —Jodi Patton, BS

Jodi is an Aging Life Care Manager in the South Lake Tahoe office of Elder Options. Jodi is well versed in dementia and end-of-life care, special needs, insurance, community resources, and long-term care insurance. Jodi has completed several research projects on the many aspects of aging life, including Medicaid, long-term care in the United States, assistive technology for the aging population, and the public policy impacts of the Affordable Care Act.


Categories: Memory Care