Why Senior Mental Health Is So Important
Much like the upheaval that teenagers experience, older adults go through a host of changes as the years go by. Changes within the family, lost friendships, changing living situations, and diminishing physical capacity can all take a toll on mental health, especially when healthy coping skills are lacking. Regardless of age, a healthy mind and a healthy body go hand-in-hand so maintaining good mental health becomes even more important in your senior years.
Seniors and Mental Health Risks
Mental health has a big impact on the quality of life a person needs regardless of age. How you view the world affects how willing you are to interact with others and play an active role in life. While a good majority of seniors don’t experience mental health issues, an estimated 20 percent of this population struggles with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. This sometimes even leads to addiction issues. The good news is declining mental health is not a normal part of the aging process.
Reasons Why Senior Mental Health Is So Important
Failing Physical Health
While the mind and body may seem to work independently of each other, they don’t. Your feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs affect the biological functions that keep the body running. This means mental and emotional distress can make you sick and also make existing physical ailments worse.
Seniors experience a host of life changes, such as:
- Diminished physical capacity and mobility
- Watching friends and loved ones die
In the absence of healthy coping skills, depression can easily develop in older adults who’ve experienced difficult life events. When this happens, someone who struggles with arthritis or any physical problem may see a worsening of symptoms. In turn, this decline in physical health can actually aggravate depression symptoms, creating a vicious cycle of increasing depression and declining physical health.
Humans are social animals, designed to interact with one another. When needed social stimulation is lacking, both mental and physical health suffers. As people age, the likelihood of living alone increases. According to AARP, an increasing number of older adults don’t have children. As a result, fewer family members visit and provide care for aging adults. Ultimately, this lack of social contact can be harmful to mental health to the point where many aging seniors experience shorter life spans.
Increased Suicide Risk
More often than not, feelings of depression become the biggest threat to mental health for older adults. When depression goes untreated, symptoms only get worse with time. The same goes for any form of mental illness. These conditions place seniors at an especially high risk of suicide. In the United States, suicide among older adults accounts for 18 percent of all suicide deaths yet they only make up 12 percent of the population.
Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems in Seniors
Knowing the warning signs of mental duress, early on, can help you take steps to improve your quality of life and avoid further hardship. Signs to watch for include:
- A decline in personal appearance or hygiene – a noticeable change in routine that may reflect a decline in mental health
- Memory problems – Memory problems are not a natural part of the aging process (with the exception of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease). Misplacing things, forgetting important dates, and asking the same question, repeatedly, might be early signs of failing mental health.
- Changes in mood – frequent changes in mood that persist for weeks at a time may be a sign of mental illness
- Social withdrawal – a key symptom of depression