Senior Citizens Month, which was later named Older Americans Month, was established in May 1963 after a meeting between President John F. Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens. As Census.gov states, “Historically, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Every President since Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during or before the month of May asking that the entire nation pay tribute in some way to older persons in their communities. Older Americans Month is celebrated across the country through ceremonies, events, fairs, and other such activities.”

Presently the population of those aged 60 and over in the United States sits at approximately 75 million people. According to the National institute of Mental Health, approximately 52.9 million US adults live with a mental illness and of those aged 50 and over, approximately 14.5% of the population suffer from a mental health condition. Older Adults are prone to suffer from afflictions such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and loss of consortium. In honor of Older Americans Month, I want to help shed some light on mental illness and what it looks like.

When we talk about mental health, what do we mean? The information below can be found on the CDC website.

Older Adults and Mental Health

What is Mental Health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.

Why is Mental Health Important?

Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. For example, depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.

What Causes Mental Illness?

There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as

  • Early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
  • Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
  • Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Having feelings of loneliness or isolation

Can Mental Health Change over Time?

Yes, it’s important to remember that a person’s mental health can change over time, depending on many factors. When the demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health could be impacted. For example, if someone is working long hours, caring for a relative, or experiencing economic hardship, they may experience poor mental health.

older adults and mental health hands

Warning signs indicative of a mental health concern

The National Institute of Mental Health has identified some warning signs that could be indicative of a mental health concern:

  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or feeling stressed
  • Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

What to do if you feel that you meet these criteria?

We here at Family Counseling Service can help. Please contact our intake department to set up an appointment. We have access to resources locally and can help connect you with the proper program to fit your needs. We have individual counseling services which can take place either in-person or virtually through telehealth methods. We also offer psychiatric medication services and dedicated case management professionals to help clients access resources available in our community.

The role mental health plays in older adults

The National Institute on Aging Mental Health has a great video resource below that provides additional information on how mental health plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Experts in this “Mental Health and Older Adults Q&A” talk about mental and emotional wellness in later life, the signs and symptoms of depression, and tips to improve your overall mental health.

Additional resources from The National Institute of Mental Health:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The Lifeline provides 24-hour, toll-free, and confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area. Support is available in English and Spanish and via live chat.
  • Veterans Crisis Line: This helpline is a free, confidential resource for Veterans of all ages and circumstances. Call 1-800-273-8255, press “1”; text 838255; or chat online to connect with 24/7 support.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 for free and confidential support 24 hours a day throughout the U.S.
  • Disaster Distress Hotline: People affected by any disaster or tragedy can call this helpline, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to receive immediate counseling. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 to connect with a trained professional from the closest crisis counseling center within the network.

Hope starts here at Family Counseling Service. If you find yourself in need of therapy or any of the additional services we offer, please reach out to us. We are here to help.