Cheerful creative multiracial senior men and women sitting around table and drawing at nursing home, doing arts and crafts together, young lady nurse assisting group of elderly people, copy space

It’s never too late: the importance of senior mental health awareness 

By Cheri Barnes

Mental Health Month comes around each May, but it’s important to raise awareness on mental health year-round. Mental health is a common topic among younger generations, like Generation Z and Millennials, but all age groups deal with their own mental struggles.

The National Council on Aging reports that up to 25% of seniors over the age of 65 are living with a mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. Loneliness and isolation are among the most common causes for these conditions.

Among all generations, Generation Z are most likely to report mental health concerns, states the American Psychological Association. For the Baby Boomer and Post War generations, stigma surrounding mental health issues has led to decades of suppressed mental health struggles. Now that these individuals are growing older, their mental health conditions are presenting themselves, but they are unsure of how to communicate their struggles after years of keeping it bottled in.

At Gulf Coast Village, Cape Coral’s only continuing care retirement community, strategies to support mental health are integrated into the treatment plan of all patients and residents who deal with mental health struggles. Depression and anxiety are most common, especially among residents who are dealing with cognitive impairment or are in rehabilitation after surgery or an injury.

Gulf Coast Village provides opportunities for supportive therapy for its residents who are dealing with mental health issues, and the staff encourages seniors to care for themselves, too. A few ways for seniors to take care of their mental health include staying active, communicating their problems and socializing.

The benefits of community

For seniors requiring the care of a senior living community, having a network of people surrounding them helps to conquer loneliness. At Palmview, Gulf Coast Village’s assisted living and memory support building, and the community’s care center, life enrichment staff and certified nursing assistants encourage residents – both long-term and short term – to attend events to provide opportunities for socialization and prevent isolation.

Additionally, high-quality and personalized care can make a difference in seniors’ mental health. Gulf Coast Village hosts not just assisted living, memory support and independent living residents, but also is home to short-term care patients who are recovering from an illness, surgery or injury. Upon admission, any medications given to the patient in the hospital are continued – if a patient was on any medication for a generalized mental health issue, that is continued after their discharge from the hospital. Furthermore, the community’s psychiatric physician visits residents throughout the week, and a therapist visits twice a week for one-on-one supportive services. After patients are discharged, we put services in their home and connect them to beneficial resources, such as therapy services.

The role of loved ones

Visits from loved ones give seniors something to look forward to. For nearby families, visit your loved one on a regular basis. Even by visiting their senior living community twice a week, you can lift their spirits. In my experience, residents who have frequent visitors are far less likely to feel isolated than those who don’t. When visiting, try to keep them active. Even if you don’t feel comfortable taking them off the senior living community’s grounds, go for a walk around campus to engage them in physical activity.

For families who live far away, stay connected to your loved one’s senior living community. Though it is more difficult than dropping by the community, keeping in touch with the staff that care for your family members allows you to receive updates on their physical and mental health.

Oftentimes, seniors avoid telling their loved ones about their mental health struggles out of fear of burdening them, so encourage conversations about their mental health. If you have concerns about your senior, look out for these signs:

  • Isolation
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Diet changes, such as lack of eating or binge-eating
  • Behavior changes, such as aggression or quietness
  • Verbal admission, such as “I don’t want to be here anymore”
  • Desire to give up 

Speak up

Here is my advice to seniors: while you may not have grown up with therapy or counseling, mental wellness is important, especially as you age. Now, while the resources are available to you, ask for help. If you see concerns in yourself, reach out to a professional about how you are feeling.

If you are struggling, it doesn’t matter what your age is – say something. It’s never too late to seek help.

About the author

Cheri Barnes is the director of social services at Gulf Coast Village in Cape Coral.