Discussing Mental Health with Seniors

Discuss mental health with your elderly loved one

The topic of mental health has faced an intense uphill battle. For decades, mental health struggles were observed as weaknesses or moral failing. In the years before, it was approached in a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell fashion.” While mental health should be an open discussion, this is the landscape surrounding mental health that most of the country grew up with.

Finally, we’re seeing change. The younger generation is vocal about mental health awareness and works to change the stigmas surrounding it. In spite of that, much of the older generation still holds negative attitudes regarding it. This makes discussing mental health with seniors not only difficult for the family, but it negatively impacts the seniors themselves.

According to a survey by Mental Health America, only about 38% of adults aged 65 and over believe depression is a “health” problem. Less than 50% of older adults with depression seek help. 58% actually believe it’s “normal” to feel depressed as we age. This perception slowly began to shift following the global pandemic, when seniors were more isolated than ever.

it's important to discuss mental health with seniors

 Mental health struggles are not par for the course

Mental health struggles are not something that seniors should ignore. Just like any other illness or injury, when mental illness goes untreated, it festers and is harder to treat. It can be difficult for seniors to make this association—especially senior men, who grew up with the additional social construct that they must bury their feelings.

When one struggles with mental health, it impacts their physical health. Seniors can experience issues such as a lack of appetite, mental lapses, and even body aches. This, in turn, has a negative impact on one’s mental health, and the cycle continues. This is not something that seniors should accept as unchanging. One’s mental health can improve. They just have to work towards it.

Fight the stigma by normalizing mental health

Much of the battle in overcoming harsh opinions about mental health is overcoming the stigma around it. Communicate to your loved one that, while their feelings on mental health might be “just how things were,” it doesn’t mean that was right. It takes a great deal of strength to seek treatment for one’s mental health issues. That strength should be celebrated.

Share with them that feelings of depression and anxiety are normal. If you’ve struggled with mental health yourself, be open about your experiences. It’s possible that hearing them speak candidly about their problems may help them feel safe to reveal their own. Some may even find hope in hearing about their favorite celebrity that struggled and conquered it. Make it clear to them that mental health care is health care, and that they should never be ashamed to take care of their health.

In making these conversations the norm, your loved ones will grow more comfortable expressing themselves over time.

Discuss Mental Health with Seniors

How to start the conversation

The hardest part about having a conversation about one’s mental health is starting it in the first place. It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it will help set your elderly loved one on the path to wellness again. Even if they seem mentally well, it’s important for them to be comfortable expressing themselves and having these conversations so that if a problem arises, they can have a healthy dialogue.

Don’t dive straight into the nitty-gritty. Start slow, make sure they’re comfortable, and slowly introduce the more difficult topics of the conversation, such as mental health care, maintenance, and help resources. Be patient with your loved one, as you may have to reiterate that “it’s okay to not be okay,” more than once.

If they aren’t ready to speak about their feelings, respect their boundaries. Pushing them to speak when they’re clearly not up to it will only make them angry, uncomfortable, and even more guarded. You may have to just let them know that you’re “here when they’re ready.” Even if the broader conversation doesn’t happen on that day, knowing they’re supported will be a comfort.

Support from Home Care Powered by AUAF

At Home Care Powered at AUAF, our professional caregivers are respectful and kind. They’re willing to lend an ear whenever their clients need it. Our in-home care workers can help seniors with companionship, organization, personal care, and more.

Learn how our staff can help you live a higher quality of life by calling 773-274-9262.

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