By Darci L. Graves, MPP, MA, MA
Research shows that nearly 1 in 5 older adults suffer from one or more mental health and substance abuse conditions. Despite what we sometimes believe – or are told – depression is not a normal part of aging. However, older adults may suffer from depression along with social or economic hardships or other illnesses. Depression should not be overlooked, dismissed or go untreated. It is a serious illness that should receive appropriate care to improve and maintain the affected person’s quality of life.
The number of adults over the age of 65 is expected to grow from 40.3 million (in 2010) to 72.1 million by 2030. That means between your parents, friends and neighbors you may well know someone who is in need of extra help. Unfortunately, research also shows that health care providers may not be sufficiently prepared to help older patients who have mental health or substance abuse issues.
Don’t assume that the mental health or substance abuse problems of older persons will pass, or be caught at their next check-up. Depending on your relationship with the individual, maybe you can offer to go with them on that next visit to their doctor or other health provider, and share your observations with the provider directly. However, if that isn’t possible and you are still concerned about a friend, neighbor or family member, still reach out to them.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends the following steps to be helpful:
- Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
- Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
- Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
- Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one’s therapist or doctor.
- Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying, and if he or she declines, don’t push him or her to take on too much too soon.
- Provide assistance in getting to the doctor’s appointments.
- Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.
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