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Addressing Mental Health in Older Adults

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Addressing Mental Health in Older Adults

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Older Americans Month – the perfect time to look at the importance of addressing mental health issues among seniors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 20 percent of people aged 55 and older experience a mental health concern. With a predicted one in six people being over the age of 60 by 2030 per the World Health Organization (WHO), it is more important now than ever to make sure older adults and their loved ones are aware of mental health issues and the resources to help.

Older Adults and Mental Health

Jessica Levin Bozek, MA, LPC, NCC, is the director of older adult behavioral health at JFCS. She notes that, in her experience, three of the top causes of depression and anxiety among older adults are poor physical health, social isolation and elevated levels of grief and loss.

“Oftentimes, it’s a comorbidity of all three,” she says. “They [older adults] are often already losing their independence, they might be in constant pain from health issues, and it can be a challenge to get out to socialize and engage with others.”

Research from WHO agrees. “Some older adults are at greater risk of depression and anxiety, because of dire living conditions, poor physical health or lack of access to quality support and services,” according to the WHO. “This includes older adults living in humanitarian settings and those living with chronic illnesses (such as heart disease, cancer or stroke), neurological conditions (such as dementia), or substance use problems.”

While not all encompassing because depression and other mental health concerns present differently in everyone, the National Institute on Aging recommends that older adults seek out help if they notice symptoms of depression or changes in their mental health.

Per the institute, these signs may include: a persistent feeling of sadness or anxiety; feelings of hopelessness, irritability, restlessness, helplessness, and more; decreased energy or fatigue; a loss in interest in usual activities; suicidal thoughts; and more. (A full list of potential symptoms can be found here.)

Resources and How to Help

Bozek shares that part of helping to address these issues is first to make sure basic needs are met. Also, normalizing talking about mental health and that one’s mental health needs can change as you age is also key.

For loved ones and caregivers who are concerned about the older adults in their lives, she recommends addressing the issues with encouragement and support. “If a loved one is worried about an older adult in their life, it’s important to be gentle, calm and validating when approaching the subject of mental health,” she says. “Be sure to validate and listen.”

Bozek recommends that anyone suspecting that they may be struggling with their mental health to reach out to a medical professional for an evaluation. In addition, she says that a few changes in lifestyle might help as well, including:

  • Seeking out socialization through activities at a local senior center, community centers or even virtually. JFCS Senior Enrichment offers in-person and online classes for seniors. You can learn more here.
  • Trying something new, like a new hobby.
  • Reaching out to loved ones in-person, text or over the phone.
  • Creating a routine that includes physical activity if possible, like walking.
  • Checking out mindfulness resources, classes and apps.
  • Being aware of information you’re taking in – oftentimes the 24/7 news cycle can hurt mental health.

To learn more about JFCS’ Older Adult services, visit