What is mental health? Is it just your emotions or memory? Is it something that only “crazy” people must worry about? Aren’t most mental health “issues” hereditary?
Mental health is defined by the CDC as each person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Ten to twenty years ago discussing a person’s mental health was a taboo. Nobody wanted to talk about how they felt or what they were struggling with. Over the last two decades the floor for conversation about mental health has opened and people have learned to speak up for themselves and for others.
Perfect mental health is hard to come by today. As adults we are always stressed either about finances (or lack thereof), social relationships, physical health concerns, and a myriad of other stressors. The stress piles on and (without proper management) can develop into an array of anxiety disorders or types of depression. Older adults also struggle to maintain their mental health as they watch friends and family drift away or pass away.
There is a unique stress and loneliness that accompany aging.
The stress of getting older is very different from the stress that younger people face. Older adults are worried about things like how long their retirement funds will last, how to pay the copay for the much-needed surgery, or how to cover the heart medication they need while in their insurance coverage gap. They have stress stemming from an aging body that no longer functions as well as it used to and health that is constantly changing. They have the stress of wondering if they really will be able to live in their “forever home” forever or how long they will be able to make it work before they need too much help and must move to an assisted living facility. They also have the stress of having to allow other people to make decisions for them, their future, and their health. The stress that seniors feel may not be what younger people understand as stress, but it still can lead to anxiety disorders if it is not addressed.
Loneliness is a prominent emotion for senior citizens as well. Loneliness that stems from children who now have their own busy lives to live and don’t have enough time or don’t live close enough to come see their aging parents as much as they would like. Loneliness attached to watching friend and family pass away more frequently with age. Loneliness also accompanies older adults when they must make the choice to move, either to a facility or to an area closer to their adult children and leave everyone and everything they know behind. Another type of loneliness is brought on by limited mobility, whether this is because of a physical condition or the inability to drive as much as before, not being able to go out with friends or visit loved ones makes people feel cut off. This loneliness that older adults feel can transform into depression if not taken note of and managed properly.
Most recently, COVID 19 has been a large contributor to the decline in the mental health of many seniors. Our older adult population, who is not especially tech-savvy, found themselves closed in facilities, cut off from family and friends, watching so many of the people in the facilities with them grow sick and pass away. This induced a fear and loneliness that was not previously known to many of them. Anxieties grew about “what if I’m next?”, “will I ever hug my children again”, “will I ever be allowed to go out of this building again?” and many more questions they never really had to face. A lot of our senior population has admitted that this pandemic has had a huge effect on their mental health and have begun looking for help in dealing with everything that is going on.
The discussion of mental health is just as important in the golden years as it is in the younger stages of life. While older people may not feel as comfortable discussing their mental health because the stigmas tied to poor or struggling mental health are more prominent in their generation, they need to know what is happening within them and that they do not have to allow these feelings to be their “normal”. There are ways to manage all mental health disorders, even in seniors, so talking about the options is much better than pretending to be okay and struggling in an invisible war with one’s own mind.