In the United States, 15 to 25 percent of elderly people suffer significant symptoms of mental illness. The highest suicide rate among Americans is with those 65 and older. Only 30 years ago, the suicide rate for this age group was 12 percent. Despite newly available research and ongoing analysis of mental health, many of the elderly people in America are reluctant to seek professional psychiatric help. Mental Illness Awareness Week is the time to learn more about these issues and ensure that you know the signs and symptoms in order to help your aging loved ones.
The fact is that many older people simply may not recognize the symptoms of their own mental illness. If they do, they may be ashamed to admit it and unwilling to even think of things in terms of “mental illness” because of the stigma attached. If and when they do seek help, it may be difficult to find insurance coverage, especially from Medicare. The Affordable Care Act has provisions to address that but seniors may still find difficulty in ensuring they receive the coverage due for psychiatric care.
It’s not only seniors that may dismiss the signs of mental illness. Doctors themselves may fail to recognize the underlying signs of mental illness. This can cause them to prescribe medications that address the symptoms, but not the cause of the problem.
Family or caregivers are in the best position to recognize the signs of mental illness because they spend the most time with the senior. Depression is the most common and affects up to 5 percent of people aged 65 and older. Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt, and helplessness are typical of depression. Jumpiness or irritability, loss of interest in common hobbies, and withdrawing from social interactions with friends and family can be signs of either depression or dementia. Confusion, memory loss, and disorientation are other signs to be aware of so they can be addressed.
Less than 1.5 percent of the direct costs for treating mental health are spent on older people. Only 4 percent of patients in community health centers are elderly and being treated for mental illness. However, fully 25 percent of the senior population is apt to be diagnosed with some form of mental ailment, most left untreated. At the very least, family members who worry that a loved one may be exhibiting the signs of mental illness should seek out a professional who can make an accurate diagnosis. A mental illness doesn’t necessarily have to disable the sufferer. If caught early enough, many mental illnesses can be effectively treated for a lifetime.
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