Mental health issues in your 60s: What you need to know
Over the last few decades, the importance of our mental health alongside our physical health has been brought to the forefront. We’ve learned the importance of self-care, mental wellness, and taking care of our emotional selves as much as we have always learned the importance of taking care of our physical selves.
As we age, there are new concerns that can start to have an impact on our mental health if we don’t take the time to address and unpack the issues.
In Canada, mental health issues are affecting those 60 and over at rates of anywhere from 17% to 30%, depending on which diagnoses are included in the data analysis. The Canadian Mental Health Commission (pdf) determined that people 65+ have a higher risk of suicide than any other age group.
Mental health issues in older adults shouldn’t be ignored and yet they continue to go undiagnosed.
Why are older adults going undiagnosed?
A lot of mental health issues in the 60+ crowd tend to go undiagnosed for several reasons.
Many older adults still hold onto a stigma surrounding mental health. They have a hard time being labelled as someone with mental health problems—instead they approach their problems with resistance, define mental health issues in uncontrollable terms, and ultimately experience internal conflict that keeps them from expressing their issues.
Older adults are also the least likely age group to report feeling unhappy with their mental state or to come forward and seek help when they are experiencing mental health issues. Many attribute this to the generational divide in dealing with mental and emotional issues—many older generations still view this as a private matter that should not be shared with others while others have a deep mistrust of psychological treatment.
Others point to the fact that many of the mental health symptoms are mistaken for “normal” signs of aging—from memory issues, mood shifts, insomnia, isolation, and lack of focus. While many people may see these as issues that affect the aging population, they are also all linked to one or more mental illnesses.
And the lack of interpersonal connection that often comes with aging is also a key factor—as their support systems start to dwindle, there are less people checking in on them and asking the tough questions about their health.
The reality is that all people—whether they are 38 or 83—should explore all possible reasons for these kinds of changes in their lives.
Now, let’s look at the mental health issues that are most likely to affect older adults.
Depression occurs in 7% of people 60 and older in Canada (pdf) and even at this percentage is underdiagnosed and undertreated. As mentioned before, the symptoms of depression are often considered “normal” for an aging population or these symptoms co-occur with other health issues they are encountering.
"Anxiety disorders" is an umbrella term for a variety of anxiety problems that a person can face. According to The Center for Addiction and Mental Health, you may have an anxiety problem if feelings of worry and fear happen most of the time, keep you up at night, or prevent you from functioning during the day. With so much changing in their lives, it is no surprise that 12% of Canadians over 60 reported experiencing feelings of anxiety (pdf).
You may think that once you enter your 60s, you might be leaving behind stress for good. But for 22% of the 60-64 Canadian population, that is not the case. And while research shows that as you age your stress levels do decrease—only 10% of 65+ Canadians said they felt extreme stress on a daily basis—stress doesn’t completely disappear as you age. It may shift focus from your career to your health and finances, but it can still affect you no matter your age.
Signs of mental health issues to look out for
Whether you’re keeping an eye on a friend or family member, or just want to keep yourself in the best mental health you can be, there are lots of warning signs you can look for:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Unusual or out-of-character behaviour
- Memory loss
- Self-isolating behaviour
- And increase dependence on drugs or alcohol
If you have concerns about your mental well-being—or the mental well-being of someone you love—contact a doctor and ask for an evaluation.
Please always check with a medical professional to ensure these strategies are right for you.