Updated: Jul 2, 2019
7% of all seniors are suffering from depression, and as many as 1.4 million elderly Canadians report feeling lonely. More than 1.8 million people over 60 years of age were living with a mental health problem or illness in Canada in 2016. Age should not limit access to quality mental health services. Yet, this is often the case in Canada.
Yesterday, Jan 30, was the 9th annual "Bell Let's Talk" day. As fate would have it, I had a coffee date with my friend, a psychologist. What started out as a light "catching-up with each other's life" conversation swiftly turned into a passionate discussion about mental health issues affecting seniors. So really, is it any surprise that today's blog is about "Seniors' Mental Health"? There were no points for guessing that one!
My friend has been a practicing psychologist for more than 12 years, and she says "considering the statistics, seniors barely constitute 5% of my patients". This staggering revelation on her part is what steered our conversation towards the barriers that prevent seniors from accessing mental health services.
Discrimination, stigma, physical and financial challenges are some of the more obvious barriers. But what if seniors think it's too late in life to start making changes in the way they live or think? Or, what if healthcare professionals overlook their symptoms as side effects of medications, or mistake them for signs of other physical illnesses? It's just so tricky and difficult to diagnose mental illness in seniors. So, I think diagnosing the illness is the bigger challenge.
The most common mental illnesses I see among my clients are "Dementia" and "Depression". There are significant social and economic issues in terms of the direct costs of medical, social and informal care associated with dementia and depression. Moreover, physical, emotional and economic pressures can cause great stress to families and caregivers. Support is needed from the health, social, financial and legal systems for both the patients and their caregivers.
Good general health and social care is important for promoting seniors' health, preventing disease and managing chronic illnesses. Training all health professionals in working with issues and disorders related to ageing is therefore important. Effective, community-level primary mental health care for seniors is crucial. It is equally important to focus on the long-term care of seniors suffering from mental disorders, as well as to provide their caregivers with education, training and support.
An appropriate and supportive legislative environment based on internationally accepted human rights standards is required to ensure the highest quality of services to people with mental illness and their caregivers.
Mental health problems and illnesses among older adults are likely to affect every family in Canada in some way. If left unaddressed, the increasing pressure on the healthcare system will have significant social and economic impacts. And many caregivers are aging adults themselves, so addressing their mental health concerns now will help improve the quality of life for countless more people as they grow older.
I say it's a good sign that the Canadian Government has recognised these challenges and is taking steps to address such issues.
As always, please do share your thoughts and comments blow. Let's Talk !!
Healthcare Consultant, in4MED
Seniors mental health program: https://www.connexontario.ca/Directory/Program/14887
Seniors mental health services in Ontario:
Know how to cope with different stressful life events and find information on violence, substance abuse and bullying:
Find mental health services in Ontario:
The author of this blog post is a Physician with over 10 years of experience working in the healthcare system as a clinician, researcher and educator. She is passionate about healthcare for older adults and strives to be a resourceful inspiration to caregivers.
*No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.