Mental Health and Mental Illness
The United States Surgeon General's report on mental health describes good mental health as
"the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity."
Older adults experience many challenges and adjustments. Good mental health enables a person to face these changes and deal with them. This does not mean that an older person never experiences any problems or disease, but that symptoms are treated and controlled, and do not interfere with leading a rewarding life.
Unfortunately, many older people still believe the myth that mental health problems result from personal failure or weakness. This stigma means that they may not want to admit that a problem or symptom exists, and do not seek help.
Mental illness is a health term used for a group of mental conditions that cause severe disturbances in thinking, behavior, feeling and relating, often resulting in a substantially diminished capacity to cope with the ordinary demands of life and distress. Mental illness can affect persons of any age and social strata and can occur in any family.
Older Adults and Mental Health
Aging successfully should include good mental health.
A key to understanding the mental health needs of older adults is to recognize that physical health and mental health are very much interconnected. For instance, people who have physical problems like heart problems and diabetes are more likely to develop mental health problems. People with depression or anxiety are more likely to develop physical problems. In addition, older adults with mental health problems may experience them as physical problems such as lack of energy or stomach problems or difficulty concentrating.
For this reason, many older adults and even health care professionals may mistakenly identify depression, anxiety and other mental health problems as physical troubles. It is no wonder that studies have shown that many older adults with depression spend as much as three times the amount of money on physical health care as older adults without depression.
In addition, many people mistake the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems for the aging process itself. Unfortunately, many people think that confused thinking, irritability, depressed mood, and loss of energy are just signs that someone is getting older rather than signs that someone needs help. The truth is that normal aging involves changes, but most changes are gradual. The aging process does not cause sudden personality changes, loss of intellect, or confusion.
The following factors can interact with each other and lead to or escalate a mental health problem, such as:
- Anxiety or depression
- Lack of basic nutrition
- Alcoholic beverages
- Prescription medications - some may cause depression or anxiety
- Over-the-counter drugs - some may interact with prescriptions
- Vitamins and herbal or other nutritional supplements
- Lack of exercise
- Stress of change and loss
- Physical illness
Some important tips for maintaining good mental health:
- Be flexible and learn to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Use your mind and stay active.
- Use with care prescription or over-the-counter medications, such as tranquilizers, sleeping pills or alcohol.
- Get regular physical checkups.
- Set goals for yourself and work toward them.
- Check your general attitude: positive or negative? Have you laughed recently?
- Exercise regularly, eat nutritiously, and get adequate sleep.
- Learn the signs of depression; it is treatable.
- Avoid isolating yourself; isolation is a breeding ground for depression.
- Develop and maintain good relationships with others for support.