For far too long, there has been a dark stigma shrouding the issue of mental illness. In 1990, Congress, in accordance with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, designated the first week in October as Mental Health Awareness Week to bring more eyes and ears on the subject.
The numbers for older adults who have some form of a mental illness are quite significant. According to the World Health Organization, 15% of adults over the age of 60 suffer from a mental illness. Within that 15%, only 1 out of 3 older adults will actually seek treatment. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness often discourages people to get help.
Fight the stigma by simply listening to your senior loved one. If you notice that he or she is withdrawn, confused, or has a lack of appetite, then talk to them. Create an open environment that detaches all judgement away from the conversation. This will provide a safe space for them to feel comfortable explaining what’s on their mind or what seems to be troubling them. Often times, the victims in these scenarios blame themselves or fear no one will take them seriously.
However, by opening up to your senior loved one and giving them an ear that will listen, you’re already providing the access to the care they may need. You’re performing step 1 in the list of actions that needs to take place before an older adult is willing to seek help. Be careful to not assume the role of therapist. Your goal is not to diagnose them, but rather to be empathetic towards them. Acknowledge there may be something irregular and they’re not alone. There are many cases of mental illnesses, and they’re all treatable.
Mental Health Awareness Week is an important observance that helps remove the barrier that separates people who have poor mental health from getting good treatment. Good treatment doesn’t start by simply observing this important week. It starts with all of us. It starts with a small conversation that leads to big a goal.
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