World Mental Health Day is October 10, 2022, and now that most COVID pandemic restrictions have been lifted, the isolation, depression, and anxiety people experienced during lockdowns may feel like a fever dream. But many elderly adults continue to live in social isolation when they lose a spouse, can no longer drive, or have mobility issues preventing them from participating in activities they once enjoyed.
According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging blog post, about 15 percent of adults over the age of 60 have a mental health disorder. Although great strides have been made to drop the stigma surrounding mental health problems and treatment, seniors may be less likely to discuss their feelings of loneliness, depression, or anxiety with their healthcare provider. Men can especially be wary of admitting a mental health problem to family, friends or their doctor because of long-held feelings of shame that they are not “tough” enough.
In addition to seeking counselling, older adults can help protect their own mental health by staying socially active. Volunteering, joining a walking group or a men’s shed, or working part-time can help older adults stay socially connected and experience a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.
Music has also been found to be a helpful therapy to alleviate depression, improve sleep, and can make patients in long-term or hospital care feel more at ease in their surroundings. Music can transport us to another time and place, calm anxiety, and with the right tempo, can help improve walking pace. Older adults with cognitive decline often respond well to familiar music which can bridge the communication gap and offer moments of joy even during difficult times.
Exercise is essential not only for physical health but moving more releases endorphins – the “feel good” hormones that help us stay more positive and can dampen physical pain. When the blues start to take hold, try taking a brisk 20-minute walk, noticing nature’s beauty. An “awe walk” can help reframe individual experiences and create a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude for the small pleasures in life.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also a useful tool to help people identify negative or false thoughts and replace them with healthier, more positive self-talk. Fortunately, there are many ways today to access mental health services including video chats, tablet and smartphone apps, as well as traditional in-personal therapy sessions.
Learn how to access mental health help by following this link to the Canadian Mental Health Association website. In the United States, call or text 988 to connect with a counsellor. The World Health Organization has a website with further resources to support World Mental Health Day.