- Mood: Melancholy, Warm
- Theme: Smiles, Looking to the Future, Dealing with Difficulties
- Tempo: Moderate
- Genre: Ballad
May is Mental Health Month, and today people all over the country are blogging about mental health issues today. (You can read more and see a list of other posts on the topic here.) For my part, I am focusing on mental health issues among older adults.
First, a few statistics. According to the CDC, approximately 20% of people age 55 and older experience some type of mental health concern. Depression is the most common mental health problem among older adults. Depression causes emotional distress, of course, but it can also lead to impairments in physical, mental and social functioning, and it complicates the treatment of other chronic conditions. Older adults with depression use more medication, visit the doctor and ER more often, have longer hospital stays, and generally incur higher medical expenses than their peers. Depression can also lead to suicide, and in fact, older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group, more than four times the overall rate for all ages.
Now, here’s the kicker. Depression is NOT a normal part of growing older, even though the rate of older adults with depression tends to increase with age. In fact, in 80% of cases, it’s treatable. Depressive disorders are widely under-recognized, and untreated or under-treated among older adults. (You can read the full CDC report here.)
Why is depression pervasive among older adults? And why the common misconception that depression is a normal part of aging?
I’m not a physician and I can’t claim to know the ins and outs of the physiological changes that contribute to depression among the elderly. What I have seen, though, is probably what you’ve seen and experienced: older adults experience many losses, sometimes without adequate social support to deal with them. The passing of spouses and friends, retirement from a meaningful career, declines in physical or cognitive abilities, children and grandchildren living far away, fewer financial resources – the pressures and stress of all of these circumstances can contribute to depression. Add to that the fact that American society doesn’t really value elders the way other societies do – no wonder depression can become such a problem.