Seniors Mental Health: When Will We Start Taking It Seriously?
As we continue to fight to eradicate the stigma that surrounds mental health, we must recognize the additional barriers faced by certain groups. The way we think of seniors' mental health tends to, unfortunately, centre around ageism as well. As a result the signs of mental distress a senior might exhibit are often trivialized or dismissed entirely. This week let’s look at three signs of a possible mental health problem we might see in an older adult that should be taken seriously.
1) Resistance to change
The lifestyle changes that can be brought on by aging are often extremely distressing, in particular the various ways an older adult may begin to lose their independence. Having one’s drivers license revoked, the experience of physical health problems that limit mobility and a change in living arrangements (e.g. having a health care worker or family member move in, or moving in to a long-term care home) are significant events that almost always carry some degree of additional stress. It’s easy for someone who’s not in that person’s shoes to negate how difficult it might be to adjust to these major changes. We can’t expect a person to simply accept that “that’s just the way it is”. Put on your listening hat and try to practice empathy, to better understand the experience the senior is going through. The person likely needs some time and support to come to terms with the changes.
Drawing a blank on a word that’s on the tip of your tongue, misplacing the car keys, walking in to another room and promptly forgetting what you came in for... Experiences like this are fairly common for many of us, especially when our stress level is high. As we age forgetfulness can become more of an issue, and it’s nothing to take lightly. Sometimes we dismiss possible signs of a larger issue as being a normal part of the aging process which means delayed medical intervention if it’s needed. If a senior in your life has been more forgetful than usual, especially in significant ways (like getting lost in one’s own neighborhood, or forgetting how to get home when driving a route they’re driven a hundred times before), support them in seeing a trusted health care provider.
3) Expressions of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts
Regardless of age, feeling hopeless enough to wish you were no longer alive is a very serious sign of distress. That sounds obvious but sadly, when a senior makes statements like “I don’t want to be here anymore” all too often they’re not taken nearly as seriously as if it had been expressed by a younger person. A person’ life carries the same value regardless of age and struggling with a lack of purpose, feeling overwhelmed or losing a sense of enjoyment in activities that were once pleasurable shouldn’t be dismissed. If you’re seeing possible signs that an older adult in your life is thinking about suicide, don’t delay asking about it directly and accessing crisis support if need be.
Our affiliate company Arpeggio Health Services is among the first in Canada to offer the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s new virtual adaptation of Mental Health First Aid: Supporting Older Adults, taking place August 23 & 24, 11:30 AM - 3:30 PM Eastern time both days. As a thank you for being a Workplace Wellness Weekly reader we’re offering a 25% discount on the registration fee for this first session! Simply click HERE for course details and to register, and use promo code BLOGTY25 to apply the discount.
Thanks for reading, everyone! Have a fantastic week.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.