Talking About the Mental Health of Older Adults

Almost half of all Canadians suffer from mental health issues (Benefits Canada); but, the important question here is why aren’t we talking about the mental health of older adults? On this World Mental Health Day, Ohana Care wanted to bring the spotlight back on Gen X and Baby Boomers. Specifically, the older adults that are 55+, as they’re the least likely to discuss their mental health.

In this article, we discuss three important things you should know about the mental health of older adults.

1   Signs your aging loved one is dealing with mental health issues
2   How to start talking to a loved one about their mental health
3   What to do when your loved one starts talking to you

Signs of Mental Illness

Aging can be an overwhelming process for anyone. Being an older adult can come with its fair share of grief, loss, loneliness, isolation, and other overwhelming feelings. Older adults are often overlooked or dismissed when it comes to mental health, partially because they seldomly bring it up themselves. Look for these signs that something is not quite right. Because, they could be indicators of mental health issues, or other medical issues.

  1. Their home doesn’t look quite like it used to. Including, clutter, messiness, laundry piling up, or overflowing bins.
  2. They have given up on activities they used to enjoy. Such as, going to group activities, declining day trips with friends and family, or not walking in the neighborhood anymore.
  3. Change in personal hygiene. Wearing the same clothes over and over, not washing their hair, don’t brush their teeth, or don’t wear their dentures.
  4. Their fridge is either empty or overflowing. Food is rotting, no fresh foods, a lot of the same items, or lack of proteins.
  5. Change in communication or phoning habits. Calling multiple times a day, or not calling for days at a time.
  6. They aren’t quite themselves. Some examples are, easy to upset, teary, laughing uncontrollably, unshakable dark cloud, no expression of emotions, or very anxious.
  7. Mail and finances are on the back burner. Including missing payments, unopened mail, or notices from financial institutions.

Talking About Mental Health with A Loved One

If you notice some of the signs mentioned above, the best way to get involved is always to talk about it with your parent or friend. We get it. Talking about your mental health, especially with a parent, can seem awkward. But it gets easier with practice and consistency. Here are some tips on how to talk to a loved one about mental health.

  1. Just start talking. A perfect opportunity may never come up.
  2. Remember the awkwardness will pass. It’ll help you get through the initial talk.
  3. Call or message them. An in-person conversation may be difficult.
  4. Be relatable. Talk about your own challenges with mental health.
  5. Find and share helpful information. Listen to podcasts on mental health and discuss them. Did you find an informative article you can relate to? Print it out and bring it with you.
  6. Be clear that you’re asking about their mental health. Sometimes you may have to ask, “Ok, but how are you really feeling?
  7. Let them know that they matter. Remind them that you deeply care for them, their happiness, and their well-being.

Because everyone is different, there is no perfect guide on how to talk about mental health. For that reason, adapt to what feels right between you and your loved one. Above all, just get started. Instead of focusing on mental health, you can act on small, tangible tasks until you build up the confidence to have a nurturing conversation.

What to Do When the “Talk” Happens

Lastly, if your loved one opens up to you about their mental health, here are some tips to make it easy for them to continue talking about it.

  1. Listen. Interrupting your loved one with questions or comments can confuse and overwhelm them.
  2. Relate to them. Knowing someone else has gone through something similar makes you feel like you’re not alone.
  3. Don’t pass judgement. It doesn’t help anyone and may close the topic for any future conversations.
  4. Take what they’re saying seriously. Never minimize their feelings. Maybe they are just having a bad week, but taking their feelings seriously is essential to having them open up again in the future.
  5. Always lend an ear. “I’m always here to talk again if you need”. One conversation usually isn’t enough. Moreover, it is just another way to show you’re invested in their wellbeing.
  6. Don’t gossip; keep the conversation sacred. Mental health can be a difficult and sensitive topic and sharing the contents of it with others could always come back to bite you.
  7. Do the research. Gain an understanding and inform yourself for the next conversation. This can help with finding some talking points for your next discussion. Showing you did your homework lets them know you care.

Mental health is your health. If the mind is healthy, ageing can be an easy part of this thing we call life. Supporting the mental health older adults and our loved ones shows them they’re not alone and that they are loved. We hope this article can help you get a conversation started; it will be a worthwhile journey.

Ohana Care

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