Over the past few decades, American society has made significant strides in breaking down the unhealthy social stigmas surrounding mental illness. Today, we know that about one quarter of Americans have a diagnosable mental disorder, with more than 1 in 20 suffering from depression. But, for older generations who grew up experiencing these stigmas in full-force, seeking treatment may still be difficult.
Therapy Can Help
Many seniors have carried around a mental health disorder for years, either suffering in silence or having tried and failed to get help from their peers. Mental illness awareness week is about breaking down stigmas as barriers to care and getting people the help they need and deserve. When mental illness goes untreated, the results are no better than when an infection or cavity goes untreated. That’s why it’s so important to seek help and reach out to those who you believe may need it.
And help works. The success rate for seniors recovering from depression is the same as it is for young people. About 80% of patients can beat depression with nothing more than antidepressants and psychotherapy. Rates of success for other illnesses are often just as good—elderly mental health care isn’t what it was 5 decades ago.
We’re All at Risk
Even if you have a clean family history, anyone can develop a mental health problem. Many illnesses do not appear until later in life. Mental illnesses in seniors can be triggered by a stroke, the result of loneliness and stress, or even the use of some medications. Anyone can be affected, and there are always serious risks and consequences.
It’s no secret that seniors are at risk for depression. Old age brings with it losses in mobility, chronic pain, less independence, and drops in economic status. We also watch some of our closest friends and family pass on. These factors may contribute to why nearly 20% of Americans 65 and older are suffering from depression.
But clinical depression combined with a traumatic life events is a dangerous combination. Older adults have the highest rates of suicide in this country. In fact, seniors over the age of 74 are even more likely to lose their life to suicide than teenagers. That’s because seniors are about 5 times as likely to succeed when they attempt suicide.
Barriers to Treatment
Just like with your physical health, Medicare pays for necessary therapy and psychiatric assessments. However, unlike physical problems, Medicare only covers half the cost of a mental health issue. For some people, this extra cost can mean the difference between having needed medication or not. Research has shown that 63% of seniors with a mental health problem aren’t receiving the help they need. Sadly, three quarters of people who commit suicide have visited their doctor only weeks before.
Mental health issues are normal, common, and every bit as important to treat as physical forms of disease. Whether it’s undiagnosed ADHD, depression, or anything in between, living life with an untreated illness is no picnic. The stigma surrounding mental illnesses only makes it more difficult for people to cope and recover. But, if we keep battling those stigmas, one day we may live in a world where people are no more ashamed to ask for help with depression than they are a broken leg.
Do you have an older loved one who struggles with mental illness? How do you help them feel more comfortable discussing their struggles and finding help—professional or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below.