Mental health issues can affect anyone, including seniors, but it can be hard to get help if you’re on a fixed income or you don’t know what options are available to you. Fortunately, there are several potential ways you can get the assistance you need.
Why Seniors Often Struggle With Mental Health
There are several coinciding factors that make seniors struggle with mental health more commonly than other demographics:
Fixed/low income. Many senior citizens are on a fixed income, whether it’s Social Security, a pension, or dividends from investments. They may have difficulty making ends meet, and may find it difficult to pay for the help they need.
Loneliness. Elderly people often feel lonely. They may no longer have a spouse. Their children may be grown. And they may find it harder to make friends. To make matters worse, loneliness and isolation can lead to serious health conditions, including chronic illness.
Cognitive decline. As people age, they experience a degree of cognitive decline. They may find it harder to remember things or have difficulty controlling their moods and feelings.
Physical inactivity. As our bodies get older, they become less physically able to do the active things they once did. Young people have the ability to physically exercise and explore new places to ward off depression, but for the elderly, it’s much more difficult.
How to Know If You Need Help
Most of us experience negative mood and cognitive difficulties at least occasionally. We feel anxious and/or depressed periodically. So how can you tell if you’re facing a serious problem or you’re just going through a hard time?
Prolonged discomfort. If your mental health struggle is prolonged, lasting more than a couple of days, it’s a sign that something serious is going on.
Unexpected mood changes. It’s common to experience sudden mood changes in response to stimuli; for example, you might get angry about someone cutting you off in traffic. But if your mood changes become more frequent or unexpected, it could be a red flag.
Relationship difficulties. If your feelings, moods, urges, or behaviors are making your relationships strained or harder to manage, it’s important to seek help.
That said, there’s never any shame in reaching out to get help for your mental health. If you’re in any way uncomfortable or if you feel you could benefit from assistance, take the time to review your options.
So what options are available for seniors?
Review your benefits through various programs. Look at your current healthcare programs and see if they’ll cover certain types of mental healthcare. For example, if you qualify for Medicaid, you may qualify for therapy at eliminated or reduced cost. You can also check with your private insurance provider to see what options you have. In many cases, you can attend regular therapy sessions inexpensively and enjoy cost-reduced medication.
Seek therapy and get medication if you can. If your mental health issues are the result of a chemical imbalance or an underlying disorder, it may be beneficial to take medication; your doctor or psychiatrist will be able to prescribe the correct medication for your needs. Otherwise, your best option is regularly attending therapy sessions, where you can talk about how you’re feeling and get new perspective – as well as techniques to manage your internal dialogue, feelings, and behaviors.
Talk to friends and family members. Don’t hesitate to lean on your friends and family. Talk about how you’ve been feeling and what they can do to help. For example, you can express that you’ve been feeling lonely and that you’d like to spend more time together. Sometimes, talking about your issues with someone you love is all it takes to feel a bit better.
Attend a support group. Even if you don’t have ample coverage for mental health services, you can likely find a free support group in your area. Attending these open group sessions can make you feel more comfortable, give you strategies you can use to better manage your mental health, and even introduce you to new people.
Stay mentally and physically active. Do your best to stay both mentally and physically active. Get any physical exercise you can and visit new places. It’s also good to talk to lots of people and challenge yourself with puzzles.
Get a support animal. Having a pet can be good for your mental health as well, especially if you’re also dealing with persistent feelings of loneliness.
As you age, you may find yourself more vulnerable to the effect of mental health disorders. But as long as you remain cognizant of those symptoms and willing to seek help, you’ll have options to help you get better over time.