“The young man pities his elders, fearing the day he, too, will join their ranks. The elderly man pities the younger generation, well-knowing the trials and tribulations that lie ahead of them.” ― Lynda I. Fisher
Our culture has some interesting tendencies toward the elderly, sometimes relegating them as “cute” (even though this is often borne of good intention, it is condescending in many ways), or pay little attention to their needs, assuming that at this stage of their lives they are doing fine and living the good life.
It is important that we begin to reconsider the mental health needs of the elderly in our culture. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of people over the age of 60 suffer with mental illness; of that population, 7% are depressed, 3.8% experience anxiety and 1% abuse substances. With the population of elderly people expected to increase to 2 billion between 2015 and 2050, these seemingly small percentages actually amount to a significant number of people who are often underserved or overlooked.
Often, barriers prevent older adults from having access to mental health treatment. Some providers do not get reimbursed for Medicare insurance, and this limits access to treatment. Missed diagnoses also accounts for some of the disconnect between elderly people and treatment. Some patients are not identified as being depressed and their condition is mislabeled as cognitive decline related to the aging process, which separates them from accessing needed care (AARP). Risk of suicide among elderly men over age 85 increases dramatically compared to other age groups, at a rate of 45.23 per 100,000 as compared to 11.01 per 100,000 in other age groups (AARP).
With the baby boomer generation merging into old age, our culture has started to explore the needs of the elderly a bit closer. Organizations such as The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation and the National Council on Aging study and identify the needs of elders and advocate for services to assist with those needs in a variety of states. The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation offers a “Find a doctor” feature, which assists people in locating psychiatrists in their state who specialize in geriatric needs. The website also offers brochure mailings on topics such as anxiety, depression, healthy aging, substance abuse, sleep disorder and others.
The National Council on Aging lists numerous evidenced-based mental health programs for the elderly and offers links to the websites for each resource (NCOA). Programs such as Healthy IDEAS (Identifying Depression Empowering Activities in Seniors) PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active Rewarding Lives for Seniors) and BRITE (Brief Intervention and Treatment for Elders), offer screenings, assessments and services to elderly people, some even provide in-home services for those who have mobility issues or lack transportation.
AARP offers an array of information on mental health needs of the elderly, including articles describing symptoms of depression, risk factors for depressed elderly people and suggestions about how to access assessment and treatment.
Accessing local assistance:
For older adults seeking mental health assistance, many communities offer services to the elderly or provide referrals to appropriate agencies.
If unsure about what therapy services are offered in the community, a good option is to consult with your primary care physician. An increasing number of medical practices are offering mental health services within their office, which can be a comfortable and familiar place to access help. If your practitioner does not have a mental health therapist within the practice, he or she is likely to have a list of local providers to refer you to.
Another option for older adults seeking mental health services is to contact member services at your insurance company. Member services can often provide a list of local “participating providers” who accept your particular insurance plan, which will help narrow the search.
The Treatment Referral Routing Service through SAMHSA offers a comprehensive system of identifying providers across the country. Utilize this service either by using their website or by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
As mentioned above, Healthy IDEAS, PEARLS and BRITE are all programs that identify mental health needs, offer suggestions and some provide referrals to providers, and these resources are available on the NCOA website.
Regardless of where one starts to search for help, the important part is asking. Thankfully, the stigma surrounding mental health issues is on the decline and more people are openly talking about their challenges with depression, anxiety and other issues.