The importance of caring for our mental health as we age


Mental health includes our psychological, emotional and social well-being, and is important at every stage of life.

Our mental health affects how we feel, think and act as we cope with life, and will positively or negatively influence how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.

As we age, certain life changes may impact our mental health, such as coping with a serious illness or losing a loved one. Many will adjust to these life changes without significant or lasting feelings of grief, worry, social isolation or loneliness. But when these feelings persist, the risk for mental-health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, increases.

Depression and other mental-health disorders often adversely affect and complicate the treatment of chronic diseases, making treatment of mental-health disorders a high priority for health-care professionals.

Here are some indications of mental-health disorders in older adults to be mindful of:

• Noticeable changes in mood or energy level.

• Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless or on edge.

• Withdrawing from people and activities that were previously enjoyed.

• Anger, irritability or aggression.

• A change in eating or sleeping habits.

• Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions.

• Increased worry or feeling stressed.

• Ongoing headaches, digestive issues or pain.

• Smoking, drinking or using other substances more than usual.

• Feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

• Thinking of harming yourself or others.

• Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior.

• Seeing, hearing and feeling things that other people do not see, hear or feel.

Effective treatments are available to help older adults manage their mental health and improve their quality of life. Recognizing the symptoms and seeing a health-care provider are the first steps to getting treatment.

In addition to psychotherapy and medication, treatments aimed at enhancing illness management, quality of life, connection to the community and daily living activities have also been shown to have positive effects on mood and anxiety.

Many older adults are at risk for mental-health disorders due to declining health, memory and mobility; shrinking social networks; and loss of loved ones. But this does not mean that mental-health problems are a normal part of aging. Studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, even though they may have more illnesses or physical problems.

Social connections, staying active and having access to quality health care are key factors in maintaining both physical health and mental health.

The Counseling Center at Jewish Collaborative Service offers professional, confidential psychotherapy for people of all ages, including seniors who have Medicare and/or Medicaid. For more information, call 401-331-1244.

PATTY HARWOOD, LICSW, is chief of programs at Jewish Collaborative Services.

mental health, seniors