Tips for improving mental health as we age

Tips for improving mental health as we age

Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders are common among the older population, but are not considered a normal part of aging. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that one in four older adults will experience a mental disorder.

While the stigma associated with mental healthcare is decreasing, too many older adults do not get the support they need. Patina focuses on supporting the “whole person” – not just physical health. Our team includes experts who can help you with emotional or behavioral health issues, as well as individuals who support the design and delivery of our unique care model. 

In recognition of National Mental Health Awareness Month and Older Americans Month, Monika Downey, PhD, MSCP, Senior Director of Behavioral Health at Patina, answers common questions about the mental and behavioral health needs of older adults.

Are mental health issues a normal part of aging?

Conditions such as anxiety and depression are not a normal part of the aging experience. This common misconception often keeps older adults from reaching out for help. Older adulthood is rich with benefits such as more time to devote to family, increased wisdom about life and more time to pursue interests, but we often underestimate the impact of very specific challenges in the aging process. 

Unique concerns to older adults, such as the loss of a spouse, loneliness, caregiver burnout, and chronic illness can be risk factors for depression and anxiety. While managing these life stressors, it's important to look within and monitor how you are really feeling. It is easy to assume what we are going through is normal, but this is not always the case. 

What are the signs of a mental health condition that should be addressed?

Anytime your emotional health starts to negatively impact your daily life, you should consider talking to your primary care provider (PCP) to find out if what you are experiencing is normal or not. If you notice you are worrying excessively, feeling sad longer than two weeks, or being more irritable with your loved ones than is typical, it might be a sign you need some extra support. 

Other symptoms that can alert you to the need for help can include sleeping too much during the day or not being able to fall asleep at night. Many things can cause these symptoms, including stress, medication side effects, the need for lifestyle changes and even underlying medical conditions. As we age, what we experience can be quite complex and it’s important to have healthcare providers who understand the unique needs of those aged 65 and older. 

What happens if I don’t reach out for help?

I am a huge believer in having the highest quality of life possible as we age. Everyone's challenges are unique – and reaching out for help to enhance our quality of life is important. Many factors play into this such as life satisfaction, autonomy, social connections, and psychological well-being.  At Patina, we want our patients to have the best quality of life possible and are here to support you in achieving this. 

Can mental health problems be treated? 

Yes! Our understanding of common mental health issues has grown significantly over the past decade and there are many treatments available to help manage them. There has been a huge shift reducing the stigma around getting mental healthcare, which is a welcome change in our communities. 

Are my physical health and mental health problems related?

Mental health is an integral part of our physical health. The two really cannot be separated from each other. Studies are very clear that addressing mental health issues gives us the best chance for improved physical health, greater life satisfaction, and longer lives in general. 

What mental health resources can I access on my own? 

Thanks to technology, there are many apps to help with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and even insomnia. With so many options out there, it can be difficult to land on the right one. A few that I like include the Calm App for stress reduction; MoodFit for mood tracking, mindfulness meditation, sleep tracking, and more; and Insomnia Coach, offered by The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help manage insomnia. There are also many free online groups and classes throughout the country that can provide added support or help you to feel more connected to others going through the same experience. 

Patina is reinventing the healthcare and aging experience for adults 65+ through an innovative model that addresses medical, emotional and social care needs. If you’re interested in learning more about primary care with Patina, click here.