It is estimated that 20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern. The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder). Mental health issues are often implicated as a factor in cases of suicide. Older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group. Men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000, compared to an overall rate of 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages.
Social support serves major support functions, including emotional support (e.g., sharing problems or venting emotions), informational support (e.g., advice and guidance), and instrumental support (e.g., providing rides or assisting with housekeeping).
- Adequate social and emotional support is associated with reduced risk of mental illness, physical illness, and mortality
- The majority (nearly 90%) of adults age 50 or older indicated that they are receiving adequate amounts of support.
- Adults age 65 or older were more likely than adults age 50–64 to report that they “rarely” or “never” received the social and emotional support they needed (12.2% compared to 8.1%, respectively).
- Approximately one-fifth of Hispanic and other, non-Hispanic adults age 65 years or older reported that they were not receiving the support they need, compared to about one-tenth of older white adults.
- Among adults age 50 or older, men were more likely than women to report they “rarely” or “never” received the support they needed (11.39% compared to 8.49%).
Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older
Depression is a true and treatable medical condition, not a normal part of aging. However older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression. If you are concerned about a loved one, offer to go with him or her to see a health care provider to be diagnosed and treated.
Depression is not just having “the blues” or the emotions we feel when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is a true medical condition that is treatable, like diabetes or hypertension.
How Do I Know If It’s Depression?
Someone who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time. He or she may also experience
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment
How is Depression Different for Older Adults?
- Older adults are at increased risk. We know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more. Depression is more common in people who also have other illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer) or whose function becomes limited.
- Older adults are often misdiagnosed and undertreated. Healthcare providers may mistake an older adult’s symptoms of depression as just a natural reaction to illness or the life changes that may occur as we age, and therefore not see the depression as something to be treated. Older adults themselves often share this belief and do not seek help because they don’t understand that they could feel better with appropriate treatment.
How Many Older Adults Are Depressed?
The good news is that the majority of older adults are not depressed. Some estimates of major depression in older people living in the community range from less than 1% to about 5% but rise to 13.5% in those who require home healthcare and to 11.5% in older hospital patients.
Optional Learning Activity
Use the interactive maps at this website to determine The State of Mental Health and Aging in America. You can explore different aspects of health by adjusting the Location and Category filters. You can also read this a summary of the information.