Mentally Ill Seniors—America’s Black Sheep

Depression affects over 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 and older, and yet only 10% of them are receiving treatment for the condition. This indicates a deep failure on the part of our healthcare system to recognize and treat mental health problems in older adults. While numerous problems contribute to this failure, underlying assumptions about elderly people cause social, self-, and institutionalized stigmas that complicate the ability of older people with mental illnesses to seek treatment for psychiatric diseases.
Let’s briefly discuss some of the different types of stigmas based around mental illness in the elderly:

Social Stigma
• Social stigma against mental illness in the elderly is closely related to ageism, or the idea that older people are not stigmaas able to contribute to society as younger people.
Oftentimes, depression and related mental illnesses are seen as normal aspects of the aging process. Events such as retirement, the death of loved ones, medical problems, and increased isolation can evince feelings of sadness and grief, but do not directly cause depression. With strong support from one’s family or therapist, these distressing events may be successfully overcome. However, dismissing depression as an unavoidable side effect of aging drastically reduces the chances obtaining treatment for depression and related mental illnesses and can exacerbate the severity of the illness.
The media commonly portrays elderly people with mental illnesses as childish, stubborn, and resistant to change. While this representation may stem from the self-stigma (discussed below), this portrayal only reinforces existing stereotypes of mental illnesses by imposing judgments on afflicted individuals rather than highlighting the need for change. In this sense, the media contributes to the problem.

Self-Stigma
cycle• Self-stigma occurs for a variety of reasons, including fear of financial repercussions, embarrassment, isolation, and/or distrust of mental health services. At worst, elderly patients fear being institutionalized in psychiatric wards or old-age homes and where they will be cut off from their families and friends.
• The baby boomers’ emphasis on self-reliance in the face of difficulty also contributes to self-stigma. As such, self-stigma is directly caused by and contributes to social stigma.

Institutional Stigma
• Assumptions about older people based on the above stigmas can lead to misguided policy that in effect punishes the mentally ill. For example, Medicaid does not cover services for those suffering from mental illnesses, which means that patients are often forced to find more expensive healthcare plans. To complicate the issue further, many states are cutting funding for mental health services in an effort to balance the budget even while 1 in 6 Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness.

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Each stigma is engendered by and reinforces the others.

Next week, we will discuss existing barriers to eliminating these stigmas and current efforts to bring awareness to the state of mental health services in America.

Sources

  • Depression in Older Adults & the Elderly—http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_elderly.htm
  • Goodell et al. “Health Policy Brief—Mental Health Parity.” Health Affairs, April 3, 2014. http://healthaffairs.org/healthpolicybriefs/brief_pdfs/healthpolicybrief_112.pdf
  • Mentally Healthy Aging: A Report on Overcoming Stigma for Older Americans. DHHS Pub. No. (SMA) 05-3988. Rockville, MD: Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2005.
  • Persky, T. “Overlooked and Underserved: Elders in Need of Mental Health Care.” http://www.mhaging.org/info/olus.html
  • Tomasky, M. “The Great GOP Mental Health Hypocrisy.” The Daily Beast, Politics, 9/20/2013. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/09/20/the-great-gop-mental-health-hypocrisy.html

Beating the Burnout

“I’m taking care of them all by myself.” “I don’t want to burden anyone else with this.” “I’m not getting any rest” “I need help, but who can I turn to?”

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If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. About 30% of adults age provide some type of formal or informal care to a family member or friend.This means these caregivers are spending over 20 hours per week, on average, with the arduous task of giving care, while still juggling other responsibilities like children, job, spouse, and managing a household.

As a family caregiver, you may have found yourself faced with several unfamiliar or even intimidating tasks, along with feelings of being overwhelmed. These feelings that come with the role of being a caregiver can place you at high risk for depression, fatigue, anxiety, neglect of your own needs, and ultimately, caregiver burnout. This is the state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that comes from unrelieved stress.

elder_care_stress

Because it is so vital that both you and you elderly or ill loved one stay in the best possible health, here are 3 key points to help you manage and prevent caregiver burnout.

• Reach Out For Help
This is where we can help. At Aarris, we believe in providing your family with quality homecare to help you provide for your loved ones. Through handpicked and personalized caregivers based on expertise and your needs, we’ll be able to help you in the areas you need most; Care for them, peace of mind for you.

Computer-2 • Learn As Much as You Can about your loved one’s illness or condition(s) as well as their needs, especially on a day to day basis from both a family as well as a caregiver perspective. The more you know, the less anxiety you’ll feel about the new role in your loved one’s life and the more effective you can be when communicating with caregivers, other family members, and physicians.

• Take Care of Your Health
In order to provide the best care for your loved one, it’s important to give your best care to yourself and your own health. Try to get some physical activity for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times per week. A balanced diet coupled with consistent and adequate sleep will help you, your loved one or patient, and caregiver work together to provide the best care and experience for your entire family.

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