Mental health issues will never be an easy topic to talk about. Most people who experience them have a hard time opening up due to fear of being stigmatized or judged. But mainly, it’s because many people with mental illness don’t even understand the disease itself, much less talk about it with other people.
If a mental struggle can shut down even the most outgoing teen or young adult, how much more to a senior with limited knowledge on mental health? This is why loved ones should pay close attention to their senior’s mental health, especially those living alone or in senior living communities.
Risk Factors of Senior Mental Illness
Mental illnesses may not be a normal part of aging, but aging can definitely worsen an existing mental struggle.
Plus, the changes that happen as they grow old can trigger the development of a mental disorder, such as depression, chronic stress, and a psychiatric disorder called dementia. Some of the most common risk factors for mental health disorders in elderlies include:
- Alcohol or any substance abuse.
- Death of a spouse or close relative
- Being diagnosed with a terminal or chronic illness, like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Mobility problems and other physical disabilities.
- Certain living situations that the senior does not want.
- Exposure to stressful events or situations.
- As a side effect of a medication
- Physical and neurological illness that affects the behavior, memory, and personality.
However, it’s important to know that, like any other disease, mental illness can creep up on your senior loved one despite any circumstances. So, it’s essential to know the warning signs to make detection easier and more prompt.
Early Warning Signs of Mental Issues in Seniors
According to the WHO, the two most common psychiatric illnesses experienced by most seniors are dementia and depression. This is followed by anxiety disorders, which usually develop along with depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Fortunately, these mental illnesses don’t just become a full-blown disease overnight. Instead, they often develop gradually while leaving a few crumbs of signs and symptoms along the way.
Now the job of caregivers and family members is to detect these early warning signs to help your loved ones get the treatment they need early on. Some of the most common signs of mental illness in seniors that you should watch out for include:
- Changes in appearance, personal care, and home maintenance.
- Social withdrawal from activities and gatherings.
- Changes in mood or a depressed mood that lasts for more than two weeks.
- Problems with memory, confusion, and concentration difficulties.
- Feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness, and guilt.
- Thoughts of suicide or death.
Early detection is crucial as it can stop a developing mental health issue from becoming a full-blown disease. So make sure to get educated and spread the word.
4 Ways to Help Seniors with Mental Issues
Mental health illnesses are NOT forever. There are already countless elderlies in senior living communities who got better and are now living a long, happy, and satisfying life. So if they can, then your senior loved one can, too一but not without your help. Here are four ways to help your loved one manage their mental illness and get better.
1. Seek Professional Help
When you have a painful joint or a lump that grew in your throat, you’ll immediately go to the hospital and seek help, right? The same goes for mental illnesses. When you notice some of the early warning signs of a mental issue, the best thing to do is to get professional help. You can either book an appointment directly with a psychiatrist or have your senior’s GP recommend a good therapist.
Psychiatric medications are not always the first option of therapists. There’s psychotherapy (talk therapy), stress management techniques, support groups, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
2. Show Full Support during Treatments
Seniors with mental health problems only really need one thing from the people around them, and that’s support.
Receiving physical, emotional, and social support from family and friends can help improve the health condition of people with mental health issues. Furthermore, research suggests that support from others is a crucial ingredient to make treatments work.
Here’s how you can show your full support towards a loved one battling a mental health problem:
- Learn everything you can about their illness.
- Offer to help them look for suitable therapists and book doctor’s appointments.
- Helping them with their medications, regular check-ups, and treatment schedule.
- Join them during their prescribed healthy lifestyle routines, such as morning walks or yoga.
- Provide emotional support during their vulnerable times.
- Ask them how their treatments went, the side effects of their medications, or if they like their new therapist.
This is new territory for you as it is with your senior loved one, so it’s okay to be at a loss for words or ideas sometimes. Also, there are plenty of doctors, caregivers, and support groups that can help you navigate this unknown road, so take heart.
3. Listen Without Judgement
Another important thing that you can do for your senior loved ones is listening to them without judgment. Let them be the ones to open up to you, but always make it known that you’re here and ready to listen.
If they do open up, be careful not to jump at the chance to give advice and solutions. More often than not, people struggling with mental illness need someone who listens rather than one who tries to “solve” their problems. Just let them share as much or as little as they are comfortable with.
4. Encourage Them to Participate
It is incredibly hard for mentally ill people to even get out of bed sometimes, so imagine how much harder it would be to socialize right away with other people.
Although seniors might not be open yet to the idea of doing physical activities or hobbies, it’s essential to encourage them from time to time. Take baby steps in motivating them, but don’t lose hope. Sooner or later, they will eventually join you during your morning power walks or sign up for a painting session in their senior living community.