The Illness Most Older People Avoid Thinking About

Here is some shocking information:

One Out of Every 5 People Over 55 Years of Age in America Suffers from Some Type of Mental Health issue

Think about that. One out of every 5 people over 55 you see on a daily basis may have a mental health problem.

It actually gets worse.

  • Two thirds of residents in Nursing Homes show signs of mental or behavioral problems.
  • Older Americans have a major problem with alcohol abuse.
  • Older Americans only make up 13% of the population but account for 20% of the people who commit suicide.
  • Nationwide, the suicide rate is highest in men over 85.

Sadly Americans, Especially Those Over 65, Don’t Have a Good Understanding of Mental Illness

Up to 50 to 70 years in this country, mental health issues in this country were taboo. No one talked about them.  In fact, people were ashamed of mental health problems. Many who suffered from a mental illness were looked down upon.

  • Discrimination against people with Mental Health problems was rampant.
  • On the employment applications of many companies, there was a question as to whether or not the applicant or anyone in their family had suffered from a mental illness. If an applicant checked yes, they wouldn’t be considered for a job.
  • Insurance companies either did not pay benefits or paid reduced benefits for people who were treated for mental illnesses. In some instances, even today, benefits for treatment are still being reduced.

There was this stigma attached to Mental Health problems. Older people today, especially men, don’t want to admit they may be experiencing problems in this area.

Here are the most common mental health issues affecting older people today:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance Abuse
  • Dementia including Alzheimer’s
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsives Disorder
  • Phobias

Substance Abuse is on this list. Unconsciously many older Americans try to treat themselves to relieve what they are feeling. They do this is by drinking or taking drugs. These alter their mental states.

Mental Health Issues Don’t Stop There

They can cause physical problems for people. Some serious ones are heart problems, diabetes, strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer and arthritis.

It also goes the other way. Some physical conditions can cause anxiety, depression and other mental problems in older people.

Many times, changes in a person’s life bring on mental health issues. Some examples are retirement, a move to a new residence, the death of a spouse, child, relative or friend. Even just getting older and realizing they can’t do something they did all of their lives may cause a person to be anxious or depressed.

Unfortunately, Most of the Older People Experiencing Mental Health Issues Don’t Get Treatment for Them

Those who do, frequently just mention them to their family doctors at the time of their annual physical or a regular treatment. Typically, those treatments are short, 15 to 30 minutes, and the doctor does not have time to treat them properly for the mental health issue.

Less than 3% of older people with mental health issues receive treatment from mental health professionals.

Here’s a heart-breaking statistic:

75% of those older people who commit suicide have seen their doctor during the month before the suicide.

Here’s another sad fact:

While the number of people over 65 in this country is increasing, the number of psychiatrists and psychologists is declining.

We are fortunate here in East Tennessee.

The Mental Health Association of East Tennessee Has Set Up a Peer Recovery Call Center.

This center is open 5 days a week. Trained mental health specialists staff it. The center’s phone number is 865-584-9125. These specialists are available to:

  • provide support and information,
  • make referrals, and
  • do crisis intervention.

If you are experiencing anxiety, depression or any other mental health issue, don’t be embarrassed. Talk to someone about it. Please call a specialist at the Peer Recovery Center if you don’t know who else to turn to.

You may be a younger person who has an older parent or older relative or friend and wonder if they have a Mental Health issue. Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Sadness lasting longer than a few weeks
  • Withdrawal from doing thigs socially
  • Loss of interest in things they always enjoyed
  • Fatigue, tiredness and changes in sleep patterns
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions,
  • Periods of confusion or disorientation,
  • Changes in appetite, sudden weight loss or gain,
  • Short term memory problems,
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or helplessness,
  • Changes in appearance,
  • Changes in the way they care for their house or property, or
  • Trouble managing their finances

If you see one or more of these, please feel free to contact the Peer Recovery Center. Discuss what you’re seeing with one of their specialists. They will be glad to help you determine what steps you might want to take.

Untreated Mental Health Issues Can Lead to an Older Person Dying Prematurely

None of us ever want to see that happen to someone we care about. If you, yourself, have an issue, please talk to someone about it and do what they recommend.  If they feel treatment is necessary, get the treatment you need. You have no reason to be ashamed.

If you have an older parent, relative or friend who has one of these issues, talk to them about it. Make sure they know you are concerned. Encourage them to get the help they need.